Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Are Inadequately Funded Retirement Plans the Latest Ponzi Scheme?

The teachers' pension fund in Puerto Rico is the latest example of an under-funded government-operated retirement plan. A unique complication of the Puerto Rico teachers' plan is the decision to opt out of Social Security as a separate form of retirement income.  In a recent New York Times article, the reporter makes the the analogy to a Ponzi scheme:

Puerto Rico, where the money to pay teachers’ pensions is expected to run out next year, has become a particularly extreme example of a problem facing states including Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania: As teachers’ pension costs keep rising, young teachers are being squeezed — sometimes hard. One study found that more than three-fourths of all American teachers hired at age 25 will end up paying more into pension plans than they ever get back.

 

“I think they’re really being taken advantage of,” said Richard W. Johnson of the Urban Institute, a co-author of the research. “What’s so tragic about this is, often the new hires aren’t aware that they’re getting such a bad deal.”

 

The problem is magnified by the fact that the Puerto Rico teachers union — like many teachers and police unions around the country — opted out of Social Security long ago, hoping it could save both workers and the government money by not paying Social Security taxes.

 

That decision was predicated on the assurance that the workers’ pensions would be well managed and adequately funded. But in Puerto Rico, as in some other places, that has not been true for decades.

For more, read In Puerto Rico, Teachers' Pension Fund Works Like a Ponzi Scheme.

 

March 8, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

In Case You Missed It: Sister Shares Moving Account of Early Onset Dementia

From the Washington Post, an especially moving account written by former White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri about her sister, who died at age 58 following some ten years with "early onset" Alzheimer's:

Every day, more Americans receive the devastating news that someone in their family has this affliction. For now, there is not a lot of hope for recovery. It can make you envious of cancer patients; their families get to have hope. Having come through this experience with my sister, I am afraid that I can’t offer these new Alzheimer’s families hope for a recovery. But I do hope that by relaying the story of my sister’s journey, I can offer them some peace.

 

My sister Dana was brilliant, beautiful, full of positive energy, a force of nature. She was not an easy person. She was driven and successful, and, as the disease progressed unbeknown to all of us, it became harder to connect with her. Ironically, that began to change once she got the diagnosis.

 

When she called each of us with the news, she already had it all figured out. We were all to understand that, really, she saw the diagnosis as a blessing. It was going to allow her to retire early. It would motivate our family to spend time together we would not have otherwise done. It would shorten her life, but she would make sure the days she had left were of the highest quality.

The thoughtful piece can help all of us as we and our family members tackle challenges.  For more, read The Blessings Inside my Sister's Alzheimer's Disease.

March 7, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Retirement, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

More on Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch on End-of-Life Issues

Paula Span, the thoughtful columnist on aging issues from the New York Times, offers "Gorsuch Staunchly Opposes "Aid-in-Dying." Does It Matter?"   The article suggests that the "real" battle over aid-in-dying will be in state courts, not the Supreme Court.

I'm in the middle of reading Judge Gorsuch's 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. There are many things to say about this book, not the least of which is the impressive display of the Judge's careful sorting of facts, legal history and legal theory to analyze the various advocacy approaches to end-of-life decisions, with or without the assistance of third-parties.  

With respect to what might reach the Supreme Court Court, he writes (at page 220 of the paperback edition): 

The [Supreme Court's] preference for state legislative experimentation in Gonzales [v. Oregon] seems, at the end of the day, to leave the state of the assisted suicide debate more or less where the Court found it, with the states free to resolve the question for themselves.  Even so, it raises interesting questions for at least two future sorts of cases one might expect to emerge in the not-too-distant future.  The first sort of cases are "as applied" challenges asserting a constitutional right to assist suicide or euthanasia limited to some particular group, such as the terminally ill or perhaps those suffering grave physical (or maybe even psychological) pain....

 

The second sort of cases involve those like Lee v. Oregon..., asserting that laws allowing assisted suicide violate the equal protection guarantee...."

While most of the book is a meticulous analysis of law and policy, in the end he also seems to signal a personal concern, writing "Is it possible that the Journal of Clinical Oncology study is right and the impulse for assistance in suicide, like the impulse for old-fashioned suicide, might more often than not be the result of an often readily treatable condition?" 

My thanks to New York attorney, now Florida resident, Karen Miller for pointing us to the NYT article.

February 28, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Religion, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Will "Everyday Americans" Lose Potential Protections re Investment Advice?

NPR had a good recent summary of the politics behind opposition to full implementation of fiduciary duty standards for investment brokers in providing retirement advice: 

Over the past two weeks, the Trump administration has taken steps to delay and perhaps scuttle a new rule designed to save American workers billions of dollars they currently pay in excessive fees in their retirement accounts.

The Obama administration spent 5 years crafting the rule through the Labor Department. It requires that financial advisers and brokers act in their customers' best interest when offering them investment advice for their workplace retirement accounts. Firms must comply by April [2917 under the current rule].

As the commentary pointed out, early-on Trump pledged to support the interests of ordinary working Americans and to take on Wall Street:

In his inauguration speech, President Trump talked about giving America back to everyday working Americans. In one of the more memorable moments, the president said, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

The fiduciary duty rule for investment brokers directly signals the tension between President Trump's pledge to working Americans and his career-long focus on big business.

AARP supports the rule, recognizing that the U.S. has an "under savings" problem. Distrust of investment advisers plays into the reluctance of ordinary Americans to engage in professionally-assisted planning for the future.  Will AARP rally retirees to resist repeal or delay of the fiduciary duty rule? 

For more, read or listen to Trump Moving to Delay Rule that Protects Workers from Bad Financial Advice.Trump Moving To Delay Rule That Protects Workers From Bad Financial Advice and White House to Investors: Put Savers' Interests First.

Warren Buffett has been counseling -- for years -- to avoid high fee "experts" for investment advice, recommending the use of index funds instead.  See e.g. Newsday's "Warren Buffett Says Don't Waste Money on Investment Fees." 

 

February 27, 2017 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Washington State Discusses Expansion of Limited License Legal Technicians to Estate & Health Care Law

In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court approved Admission to Practice Rule 28, which created a new program for authorization of "limited license legal technicians," also known as LLLTs or "Triple L-Ts." The express purpose of the program was to meet the legal needs of under-served members of the public with qualified, affordable legal professionals, and the first area of practice chosen was domestic relations.  With that first experience in hand, in January 2017, the Washington State Bar Association has formally proposed expansion of the LLLT program to enable service to clients on "estate and health law."  

As described in the Washington State Bar Association materials, this expansion will include "aspects of estate planning, probate, guardianship, health care law, and government benefits. LLLTs licensed to practice in this area will be able to provide a wide range of services to those grappling with issues that disproportionately affect seniors but also touch people of all ages who are disabled, planning ahead for major life changes, or dealing with the death of a relative."  The comment period is now open on the proposed expansion.

For more about this important innovation, there was an excellent 90 minute-long webinar hosted by the Washington Bar in February 2017, with members of the Limited License Legal Technician Board explaining the ethical rules (including mandatory malpractice insurance), three years of education and 3000 hours of experience required for LLLTs to qualify.  Now available as a recording, the comments from the Webinar audience, including lawyers concerned about the potential impact on their own practice areas, are especially interesting.  

Many thanks to modern practice-trends guru, Professor Laurel Terry at Dickinson Law, for helping us to keep abreast of the Washington state innovation. 

February 24, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

North Carolina Appeals Ct Declines to Recognize Pre-Death Cause of Action for Tortious Interference with Expectancy

An interesting decision addressing standing issues arising in the context of a family battle over an 87-year old parent's assets was issued by the North Carolina Court of Appeals on February 21, 2017.  In Hauser v Hauser, the court nicely summarizes its own ruling (with my highlighting below): 

This appeal presents the issues of whether (1) North Carolina law recognizes a cause of action for tortious interference with an expected inheritance by a potential beneficiary during the lifetime of the testator; and (2) in cases where a living parent has grounds to bring claims for constructive fraud or breach of fiduciary duty such claims may be brought instead by a child of the parent based upon her anticipated loss of an expected inheritance. [Daughter] Teresa Kay Hauser (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the trial court's 3 March 2016 order granting the motion to dismiss of [Son] Darrell S. Hauser and [Son's Wife] Robin E. Whitaker Hauser (collectively “Defendants”) as to her claims for tortious interference with an expected inheritance, constructive fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty as well as her request for an accounting. Because Plaintiff's claims for relief are not legally viable in light of the facts she has alleged, we affirm the trial court's order.

The succinct North Carolina opinion, declines to follow the logic of Harmon v. Harmon, a 1979 decision from the Maine Supreme Court, that addressed the "frontier of the expanding field" on torious interfence of with an advantageous relationship, by recognizing a "pre-death" cause of action. 

Currently the North Carolina opinion is available on Westlaw at 2017 WL 672176; I'll update this post with a open access link if it becomes available.  

February 23, 2017 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Are Seniors the Target of Unfair Foreclosures in Florida Reverse Mortgage Cases?

The marketers of reverse mortgages often paint a rosy picture of how seniors will be able to draw on the equity in their homes to cover daily expenses, without risk of repayment before death.  But details of these mortgages can be overlooked and as we've reported before, seniors can be surprised when terms and conditions create traps that can lead to foreclosure.  However, from Florida, we're now hearing about cases where one of the simplest conditions -- the borrower continuing to live on site -- has become the subject of litigation.  

From Law.com:

“All of a sudden, we saw a spate of foreclosures where the mortgage companies alleged the seniors no longer lived in the home,” said Gladys Gerson, supervising attorney for Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida’s senior unit. “This has been happening around the state.”

 

About a dozen similar cases reached Gerson and other attorneys at Coast to Coast, who have helped a growing number of low-income seniors fight and win dismissals despite aggressive lender litigation.

 

Florida is ground zero for seniors’ issues, but as the strategy has often proved effective, it’s likely to spread, according to defense attorneys. “If you see the volume of national advertising that’s geared to seniors, I can’t believe this is limited to Florida,” Corona’s father and partner, Ricardo, said. “The servicers are not even based in Florida, so I don’t see why they would limit themselves.”

 

Corona admits he didn’t expect a hard fight when he first reviewed El Hassan’s case, but court records show he was wrong. Over the last 10 months, the ongoing litigation yielded two hearings, 40 docket entries and attempts by both sides to collect attorney fees.

For more, read the full article, Foreclosure Litigation Strategy Takes Aim at Seniors, Attorneys Say.

Thank you to my colleague, Dickinson Law Professor Laurel Terry, for this source.  

February 22, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Housing, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Texas Elder Abuse Statute Used to Convict and Sentence Doctor to Life in Prison

The deeply disturbing medical practice history of Christopher Duntsch, who worked as a neurosurgeon in Texas until 2013, culminated in his February 2017 conviction and sentence of life in prison for his injuries to a 74-year old patient.  It is relatively rare for medical "malpractice" cases to lead to criminal charges, but as detailed in news articles covering the trial, there was strong, adverse medical testimony about how Duntsch's improper surgical procedures caused a horrific outcome.

Initially accusing Duntsch of criminal acts arising in the context of surgical procedures to several of his patients, the prosecution ultimately focused the criminal trial on his 2012 spinal surgery on a single patient under Texas Penal Code Section 22.04, for "Injury to a Child, Elderly Individual, or Disabled Individual." The pertinent portion of the statute provides:

"(a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence, by act . . . causes to a . . . elderly individual . . . : (1) serious bodily injury."      

The offense becomes a first degree felony, if it is proven that the conduct was "committed intentionally or knowingly." If the conduct had been "only" reckless, the offense would be a felony of the second degree.

Under the statute, an "elderly individual" is defined as a "person 65 year of age or older." 

In a Washington Post article on the conviction, a Texas attorney is quoted:

“I cannot recall a physician being indicted for aggravated assault for acts committed during surgery,” Toby Shook, a Dallas defense attorney who spent 23 years working as a Dallas County prosecutor, told the magazine. “And not just Dallas County — I don’t recall hearing about it anywhere.”

February 21, 2017 in Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 20, 2017

How Do "Domestic Partnerships" Fare for Elderly Couples?

George Washington Law Professor Naomi Cahn recommended an interesting new article from the Elder Law Journal, "The Precarious Status of Domestic Partnerships for the Elderly  in a Post-Obergefell World."

Authors Heidi Brady, who is clerking for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Professor Robin Fretwell Wilson from the University of Illinois College of Law, team to analyze key ways in which elderly couples in domestic partnerships may be treated differently, and sometimes more adversely, than same sex couples who are married.  From the abstract: 

Three states face a particularly thorny question post-Obergefell [v. Hodges, the Supreme Court's 2015 decision recognizing rights to marry]: what should be done with domestic partnerships made available to elderly same-sex and straight couples at a time when same-sex couples could not marry. This article examines why California, New Jersey, and Washington opened domestic partnerships to elderly couples. . . . This Article drills down on three specific obligations and benefits tied to marriage -- receipt of alimony, Social Security spousal benefits, and duties to support a partner who needs long-term care under the Medicaid program -- and shows that entering a domestic partnership rather than marrying does not benefit all elderly couples; rather, the value of avoiding marriage varies by wealth and benefit. 

Thank you, Naomi, for this recommendation.  

February 20, 2017 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sigificant Relationships: Arizona's New Guardianship Law Provides Rights of Contact for Wards

As we have discussed often on this Blog, one key issue in guardianships can be the right of access between third persons and the protected ward.  Arizona has adopted a new rule expressly permitting individuals with "significant relationships" with a ward to petition the court for access if the appointed guardian is denying contact.  A key section of the new law, adding Arizona Rev. Statutes Section 14-1536, effective as of January 1, 2017, provides:

"A person who has a significant relationship to the ward may petition the court for an order compelling the guardian to allow the person to have contact with the ward.  The petition shall describe the nature of the relationship between the person and the ward and the type and frequency of contact being requested.  The person has the burden of proving that the person has a significant relationship with the ward and that the requested contact is in the ward's best interest."

In deciding whether to grant access the court is obligated to consider the ward's physical and emotional well-being, and to consider factors such as the wishes of the ward "if the ward has sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent choice," whether the requesting person has a criminal history or a history of domestic or elder abuse, or has abused drugs or alcohol. The new law also gives the ward the direct right to petition for contact with third persons.  

"Significant relationship" is defined in the statute as meaning "the person either is related to the ward by blood or marriage or is a close friend of the ward as established by a history of pattern and practice."

The Arizona guardianship law was also amended to mandate that guardians notify "family members" when an adult ward is hospitalized for more than 3 days or passes away.  Section 14-1537 provides notice shall be given to the ward's spouse, parents, adult siblings and adult children, as well as to "any person who has filed a demand for notice." 

I have also run into the issue of access where the care for the incapacitated person is being provided by means of family member or third person acting through a "power of attorney."  Sadly, in some states, the access issue triggers a full blown guardianship proceeding. Should a similar "significant relationship" test be used to provide a court petition-system outside of guardianships?  

February 17, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Summer Study in London: Prof. Kate Mewhinney's Course on Comparative Law & Aging

Our good friend, a true expert on international perspectives on elder law, Professor Kate Mewhinney, is offering her course on Comparative Law and Aging in London this summer.  Here are the details for the 3 credit course, part of a summer program that begins May 29, 2017:

This course examines how countries address what has been called the “silver tsunami” – the rapidly aging demographic.  Through a comparative and international analysis students will learn how different legal systems address similar challenges brought on by increased longevity and fewer births.  The course allows us to compare legal approaches to such issues as retirement ages, pensions and Social Security, appointment of financial surrogates, employment discrimination, filial responsibility and health care policies on long-term care and end-of-life options.  The focus will be on the U.S., U.K. and major European countries, as well as Japan, the European Union, and China.  There are no prerequisites. Students will be graded on class participation, a quiz on fundamentals, and a short research paper to be turned in within a month of the course end.

For more information on enrollment and other details of Wake Forest University School of Law's summer program in London, see the details here.   

February 15, 2017 in Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 Summer Internships Available at David Berg Center for Law and Aging

I have had several law students take advantage of summer internships available through the David Berg Center for Law and Aging in New York City and they always report it was a great experience.  The window is now open for applications for summer 2017.  Here are the details:

The David Berg Center for Law and Aging is seeking select students for its Summer 2017 internship program. The David Berg Center for Law and Aging focuses on a wide range of legal and policy issues affecting the older adult population and victims of elder abuse and exploitation.  Interns will be offered the unique opportunity to work at the nation’s first elder abuse shelter, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale.  Located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York, on 17 acres of the Hudson River, the comprehensive elder abuse center provides an emergency residential shelter as well as psychosocial, health care and legal advocacy and community-based services for victims of elder abuse.  Under the direct supervision of the Weinberg Center’s Assistant Director and General Counsel, students will be exposed to legal practice in New York City and Westchester County. Students may have the opportunity to work collaboratively with Weinberg Center partners such as the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the New York City Police Department, District Attorneys’ Offices and Family Justice Centers. Interns will complete substantive research and writing on the different legal and policy issues impacting the older adult population and victims of elder abuse.  Past issues have included questions surrounding legal capacity, guardianship, powers of attorney, Medicaid eligibility, copyright, and right to privacy.  The interns will gain case management skills and potential courtroom exposure through drafting petitions for guardianship, family court orders of protection and housing court matters.  The interns will also have the opportunity to participate in multidisciplinary conferences, meetings of the American Bar Association Senior Lawyer’s Division’s Elder Abuse Task Force and other community outreach and training events. Dormitory style affordable housing at the College of Mount Saint Vincent is available.

Interested students should send a resume, cover letter and writing sample to Deirdre Lok.  Her email address is available on the Center's website here

February 14, 2017 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 6, 2017

The United Nations of Caregiving

Have you ever spent the night in a nursing home or dementia care center?  How about for a week?

While on my sabbatical in Arizona I had the recent opportunity to spend several nights and many daytime hours in a care center.  Quite simply, the experience deepened my respect and appreciation for the roles played by professional caregivers at all levels.  

The facility in question is a nonprofit center, licensed for assisted living, and devoted exclusively to dementia care without restraints, the very definition of "mission driven" care. Set in a five acre campus, it is what I would call a "green house model" community (or more precisely, an Arizona Model Dementia Specific Assisted Living Project), with a maximum of twelve residents per cottage. It isn't a fancy place, but it is inviting, with a circular path between the four cottages that encourages people to sit under the trees, mingle and chat. Many residents are admitted on "private pay" status, but the center is also Medicaid certified.

Three shifts per day of CNAs (certified nursing assistants), usually at least two per cottage for each shift, provide the bulk of the personal care, cleaning, and meal service for the residents.  The CNAs rotate shifts between the four cottages over the course of a single work week, sharing the workload of more challenging residents.  There is also a small staff at the administrative level, including an executive director (who is working on her PhD thesis in her rare, spare time) and two LPNs, and there is regular input from both an MD and a very experienced Nurse Practitioner (who also has a PhD).  A jack-of-all trades-building-maintenance-man, an up-beat program planner, plus two expert cooks round out the staff.  I was on a nodding acquaintance with many of these people as a result of regular visits for close to three years, but my most recent ten days of "living in" gave me profound new appreciation.

The news media, for understandable reasons perhaps, tends to focus on tragedies and bad experiences in long-term care.  Lawyers also tend to do the same, although for other reasons. At a recent legal conference, an experienced attorney who represents families in tort suits against nursing homes told me that in his experience, there are "no good nursing homes," only "less bad" ones.  

Frankly, my experience, not just recently, but over 30+ years, is that there are very good care centers available. And the quality of living can be better than in the ol' homestead. It does take time to choose the right center for a loved one, and not every place will work for every person. I suspect the differences depend on how well any center identifies and supports its chosen mission of care.  The attitude at the top affects the attitude of every employee.

To start at the executive director level, I learned this week that an awning that magically appeared one hot summer day to shade the favorite bench of one resident came from the director's own home. The attractive, sail-like canvas was adjusted "just so" between a building and a tree to provide maximum protection without making the often restless resident feel trapped.

Regular readers of the Elder Law Prof Blog may have guessed. That sun-worshiping resident was my father, a retired judge.  He liked to hold court on that bench.   

Another resident would often accompany the maintenance man on his daily rounds -- carrying a tool or pushing a cart. That probably slowed the maintenance man down.  But I never heard a complaint.  On "tough days" for that resident, when he wasn't tracking enough to safely accompany the maintenance man, that same employee would gently and kindly guide him by the shoulder back to his cottage.  

One woman, who did not speak English, liked to dance.  At the regular planned musical events, I would see even the shyest CNAs allow this woman to draw them onto the stage to join the entertainers with happy feet. My sister joined her in dancing too.  

Another resident, who became one of my favorites, sadly had aphasia, making it hard for him to find words to express himself.  Instead, he howled.  I listened mornings and nights as those hard-working CNAs would correctly interpret his happy howls -- or his sad howls -- or his "I don't want a shower" howls, without losing patience.

This staff includes people born and raised in the U.S., including several from tribal lands.  But there is always a shortage of CNAs. This particular staff also includes men and women who are immigrants from foreign lands: Mexico, several countries in Africa, the Middle East, eastern Europe, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  Many of the caregivers, working 40 hours or more per week, were also caring for disabled relatives in Arizona, or were sending money "home" to support other family members in need.  One caregiver, a permanent U.S. resident, is considering the tough question of whether to return to the country of birth in order to join a spouse currently detained and facing deportation for illegal entry.  Their children, born in the U.S., would become strangers in that foreign land.    

The workers at my father's assisted living center are part of a United Nations of Caregiving.

Continue reading

February 6, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Are Health Care Insurers Using "Costs" of ACA Exchanges to Justify Merger Plans?

From the Los Angeles Times, there is this interesting account from the antitrust lawsuit examining the proposed merger of Aetna and Humana health organizations: 

Aetna claimed this summer that it was pulling out of all but four of the 15 states where it was providing Obamacare individual insurance because of a business decision — it was simply losing too much money on the Obamacare exchanges.

 

Now a federal judge has ruled that that was a rank falsehood. In fact, says Judge John D. Bates, Aetna made its decision at least partially in response to a federal antitrust lawsuit blocking its proposed $37-billion merger with Humana. Aetna threatened federal officials with the pullout before the lawsuit was filed, and followed through on its threat once it was filed. Bates made the observations in the course of a ruling he issued Monday blocking the merger.

 

Aetna executives had moved heaven and earth to conceal their decision-making process from the court, in part by discussing the matter on the phone rather than in emails, and by shielding what did get put in writing with the cloak of attorney-client privilege, a practice Bates found came close to “malfeasance.”

For more, read U.S. judge finds that Aetna deceived the public about its reasons for quitting Obamacare

January 26, 2017 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Age-Related Memory Loss vs. Alzheimer's Disease

The winter issue of Columbia University's Magazine has an article on Your Beautiful Brain: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Neuroscience.  I was particularly interested in the account of Nobel Prize-winning Professor Eric Kandel's 50+ years of research that began by looking at Aplysia -- a "blobby mollusk with protruding feelers that resemble rabbit ears" -- thus contributing to the mollusk's nickname, the "sea hare."

Clearly to Professor Kandel, the mollusks' brains were beautiful, not least because their comparatively large neural structures provided an accessible way to study more complex structures such as the human brain. Dr. Kandel, now 87, admits that "hunches" have played a role in his research.  

From Columbia Magazine:  

Today, as neuroscientists worldwide pursue remedies for Alzheimer’s and age-related memory loss, Kandel’s half century of findings are considered indispensable. Substantive therapies for Alzheimer’s in particular are “poised for success,” says Jessell, a colleague of Kandel’s for thirty-five years. “We’re on the cusp of making a difference.” But accompanying that claim is a caveat; the fledgling remedies are not panaceas. “We’re not necessarily talking about curing the disease,” he says. “But we are talking about slowing the symptomatic progression of the disease so significantly that lifestyles are improved in a dramatic way. If in ten years we have not made significant progress, if we are not slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s, then we have to look very seriously at ourselves and ask, ‘What went wrong?’”

 

Breakthroughs could happen sooner, however. Some of the Alzheimer’s medications available now “probably work,” says Kandel, except for one obstacle: “By the time patients see a physician, they’ve had the disease for ten years. They’ve lost so many nerve cells, there’s nothing you can do for them.” Possibly, with earlier detection, “those same drugs might be effective.” That’s not a certainty, insists Kandel, only a “hunch.”

Professor Kandel has also explored the biological differences between "ordinary" age-related memory loss and Alzheimer's Disease.  

Years ago, Kandel had another hunch — that age-related memory loss was not just early-stage Alzheimer’s, as many neuroscientists believed, but an altogether separate disease. After all, not everyone gets Alzheimer’s, but “practically everyone,” says Kandel, loses some aspects of memory as they get older. And MRI images of patients with age-related memory loss, as demonstrated by CUMC neurology professor Scott Small ’92PS, have revealed defects in a brain region different from those of the early-stage Alzheimer’s patients.

 

Kandel also knew mice didn’t get Alzheimer’s. He wondered if they got age-related memory loss. If they did, that would be another sign the disorders were different. His lab soon demonstrated that mice, which typically have a two-year lifespan, do exhibit a significant decrease in memory at twelve months. With that revelation, Kandel and others deduced Alzheimer’s and age-related memory loss are distinct, unconnected diseases.

 

Then Kandel’s lab (again, with assistance from Small) discovered that RbAp48 — a protein abundant in mice and men — was a central chemical cog in regulating memory loss. A deficit of RbAp48 apparently accelerates the decline. Knocking out RbAp48, even in a young mouse brain, produces age-related memory loss. But restoring RbAp48 to an old mouse brain reverses it.

 

Now what may be the eureka moment — this from Gerard Karsenty, chairman of CUMC’s department of genetics and development: bones release a hormone called osteocalcin. And Kandel later found that osteocalcin, upon release, increases the level of RbAp48.

 

“So give osteocalcin to an old mouse, and boom! Age-related memory loss goes away.”

 

The same may prove true in humans. A pill or injectable could work, says Kandel: “Osteocalcin in a form people can take is something very doable and not very far away.” In less than a decade, age-related memory loss might be treatable. “This,” he says, “is the hope.”

For more on beautiful brains, read the full article on Columbia University's website. 

January 25, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

New PBS Documentary on Alzheimer's to Air Nationally on Wednesday, January 25

A new one hour documentary, Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts, is scheduled to begin airing nationally on PBS stations on Wednesday, January 25.  

In part, the documentary will focus on research funding issues.  Dr. Ruby Tanzi, a Harvard Medical School researcher who appears on the film, explained for NextAvenue's website:

We should be absolutely panicked at the government level. When the Medicare and Medicaid [treatment and care] bill for Alzheimer’s goes from one in five dollars to one in three dollars — that could happen over the next decade with baby boomers getting older — we could single-handedly collapse Medicare and Medicaid with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Now, the government [research funding for Alzheimer's] has gone up to about a billion dollars. Which is great, it’s more money. It’s still not the billions of dollars that go to other age-related diseases. I’m glad that cancer and heart disease and AIDS get many billions of dollars, but Alzheimer’s has to get as much or more now given the epidemic and the urgency here with how many cases we’re going to have.

 

It’s going to crush us. Never mind the social burden on the families. I might add that two-thirds of patients are women. And most caregivers are women. What’s going to happen when so much of our female population is (struck) with this disease? So it’s a huge problem and if we don’t throw a ton of money at it now, it’ll be a disaster.

For more information on the documentary, including links to watch it on-line (free!), see PBS "Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts." There is an important opportunity here for schools, including law schools, to host an airing of the documentary to promote discussion about strategies.  

January 24, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Film, Medicaid, Medicare, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)