Wednesday, June 22, 2016
It's that time of the year! The Social Security Trustees and the Medicare Trustees released their 2016 reports. There is always a lot of information in these reports, but what everyone wants to know is when these programs are "running out" of money. According to the Social Security Trustees 2016 report, the SSDI and Retirement funds (combined) are "good" through 2034, although individually the SSDI fund isn't as robust, with its solvency at risk in 2023.
Here is an excerpt from the summary:
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was projected to postpone the depletion of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund by six years, to 2022 from 2016, largely by temporarily reallocating a portion of the payroll tax rate from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund to the DI Trust Fund. The effect of updated programmatic, demographic and economic data extends the DI Trust Fund reserve depletion date by an additional year, to the third quarter of 2023, in this year's report. While legislation is needed to address all of Social Security's financial imbalances, the need remains most pressing with respect to the program's disability insurance component.
The OASI and DI trust funds are by law separate entities. However, to summarize overall Social Security finances, the Trustees have traditionally emphasized the financial status of the hypothetical combined trust funds for OASI and DI. The combined funds satisfy the Trustees' test of short-range (ten-year) close actuarial balance. The Trustees project that the combined fund asset reserves at the beginning of each year will exceed that year's projected cost through 2028. However, the funds fail the test of long-range close actuarial balance.
The Trustees project that the combined trust funds will be depleted in 2034, the same year projected in last year's report....
The estimated depletion date for the HI trust fund is 2028, 2 years earlier than in last year’s report. As in past years, the Trustees have determined that the fund is not adequately financed over the next 10 years. HI tax income and expenditures are projected to be lower than last year’s estimates, mostly due to lower CPI assumptions. The impact on expenditures is mitigated by lower productivity increases.
Looking at the separate programs Part A (HI) and Part B (SMI) the picture for SMI is a bit better
The SMI trust fund is adequately financed over the next 10 years and beyond because premium income and general revenue income for Parts B and D are reset each year to cover expected costs and ensure a reserve for Part B contingencies. A hold-harmless provision restricts Part B premium increases for most beneficiaries in 2016; however, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 requires a transfer of funds from the general fund to cover the premium income that is lost in 2016 as a result of the provision. In 2017 there may be a substantial increase in the Part B premium rate for some beneficiaries. (See sections II.F and III.C for further details.) ...
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
In a recent McKnight's News column, Registered Nurse Pam McKnally wrote an interesting and candid account of "What It's Like to Be a Nurse Whistleblower." Her experiences with retaliation -- indeed bullying-- after she complied with laws requiring to her report observations of improper use of narcotics in the workplace led her and others to advocate for changes in the law.
In April 2016, in response to the experiences of McKnally and others, Nebraska enacted changes to state law, prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers and mandating confidentiality for the identities of anyone making reports of violations by "credentialed" health care providers. Nebraska Legislative Bill 750, amending Nebraska's law that governs a broad range of health care providers, specifies:
An individual or a business credentialed pursuant to the Uniform Credentialing Act shall not discriminate or retaliate against any person who has initiated or participated in the making of a report under the act to the department of [health and human services]. Such person may maintain an action for any type of relief, including injunctive and declaratory relief, permitted by law.
Further, the law now provides that "The identity of any person making such a report [of suspected violations] or providing information leading to the making of a report shall be confidential" and further, "The identify of any person making a report, providing information leading to the making of a report, or otherwise providing information to the department, a board, or the Attorney General included in such reports, complaints or investigational records shall be confidential whether or not the record of the investigation becomes a public record."
Whether the changes to Nebraska law, especially in the absence of a specific statutory sanction for retaliation or breach of confidentiality, will be effective to address the backlash experienced by McNally will bear monitoring. She cautions:
I resigned, as my work life was intolerable, and it was clear that I was about to get fired. The EOC investigated my claims. The costs in employee hours and attorney fees, plus fines for violations can be astronomical. Had the situation been handled differently by the Human Resource department, the outcome may have been much different.
It is time for employers to stop blaming and discrediting professionals who simply follow the law and advocate for themselves and their patients....
When nurses are happy they work hard. They are loyal and seek out constructive ways to help their organization deal with conflict. In long-term care, Medicare and Medicaid cuts mean money needs to be saved now more than ever. Keeping a business viable includes mitigating the need for attorneys and dealing with nurse turnover.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
The Office of Inspector General issues regular reports to Congress, and the most recent report indicates that for the period of October 1, 2016 to March 31, 2016, the total amount of expected recoveries arising from allegations of healthcare fraud was $2.77 billion. That number is "up" by a billion dollars over the first half of fiscal year 2016.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Recently I was at a dinner party with academics from across the spectrum of my university. As often happens, a group of us seated together for the meal swapped basic information about what we do in our day jobs. It was a fun group of art professors, special education specialists, and even an agricultural economist. We talked art and politics across the board. I had at first identified myself only as a professor at the law school, but during a lull in the conversation I explained my area was "law and aging" generally and more specifically the work of elder law attorneys. Ears perked up.
I had that experience that I suspect doctors have all the time. Everyone at the table had a question or story to tell of their family's recent aging issue. And as I listened, I recognized a common theme among these skilled, thoughtful professionals. I kept hearing that we knew "mom" or "aunt" or "grandpa" was getting older, and we offered help, but the help we offered either wasn't enough or was rejected outright. And often, the second part of their stories involved a "crisis." A particularly poignant example was the caring granddaughter who cooked and froze two weeks of meals for her frail, housebound grandmother, only to realize that her grandmother's "little bit of confusion" resulted in her opening all of the 14 days of dinners on the very first day. It precipitated a diabetic crisis for the grandmother, as well as the loss of the majority of the food.
Over the dinner, I was surprised to find myself talking a lot about what is dementia (and does it differ from Alzheimer's) and whether it can be distinguished from "temporary" conditions that cause short term confusion. Everyone at the table was searching for answers and admitting they didn't know enough before the crisis event. And I could completely empathize, because even with some 20 years of being fairly deeply immersed in elder care issues, I am regularly surprised by some new topic or challenge in my own family.
I had good reason to think about the party conversation again while listening to WITF-FM Public Radio's Smart Talk program on June 2. The program's guests were Dr. Linda Rhodes, the former Secretary of Aging for Pennsylvania, and Joan Krechmer, a geriatric care manager and the executive director for Jewish Family Services, in York, Pennsylvania and the topic was "Caring for Mom, Dad and Kids." Lots of people calling in and writing with very specific questions, and many of the questions were triggered by both crisis events and chronic care issues.
An example of one question was from a family member who was told the family had "24 hours" to decide about a skilled nursing facility when their loved one was being discharged from the hospital. "There is barely time to do the research" the program guests were talking about. And that is true. Even though federal law imposes a protocol on hospitals about discharge notices, and even provides a mechanism for informal appeal, which if triggered properly can automatically result in more time, most people simply won't know about that short-term remedy in advance.
The Smart Talk radio program is part of a larger series of events on the topic of family care-giving, including airing of the PBS television documentary on Caring for Mom & Dad and in-person sessions at area locations to talk about advance planning and identify resources in advance of a crisis.
Linda Rhodes, the former PA Secretary of Aging has written her own book, Caring for Aging Parents: The Essential Guide.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Senior residential care provider Life Care Centers of America is the focus of recent legal news, including:
- KOAA TV 5 News: Colorado Jury Awards $5.5 million in wrongful death suit against Life Care Center of Pueblo.
- Chattanooga Times Free Press: Settlement May be Brewing in Government's Longtime Federal Case alleging False Claims - Billing Practices by Life Care Centers of America
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
A very sad story hit the news last week. A Florida man killed his chronically ill wife because they couldn't afford her prescriptions. Florida Man Says He Killed Sick Wife Because He Couldn’t Afford Her Medicine, Sheriff Says explains that the husband in the over 50 year marriage told the law enforcement officer who responded to the call that "[t]he cost of her medications had become so burdensome that they could no longer afford it ... [s]o on Monday morning while she was sleeping, he shot her in the head...." According to the article the husband has been charged with premeditated first degree murder. A representative of the Sherriff's office was quoted as saying that the husband "was perfectly clear on that he was going to be arrested and go to jail, but again, he felt that this is where it had gotten to him and this was his course of action... showed emotion and he was very clear that he was out of options in his mind.” At the time of the story, according to the article, there was no information about their health insurance status.
This story notes the issues with elders on fixed incomes and the costs of medications. There have been stories in the press of late about price spikes in certain medications and the Senate Committee on Aging has held two hearings this year on the topic, available here and here.
Monday, May 23, 2016
California Supreme Court Clarifies Parties Potentially Liable for "Neglect" Under State's Elder Abuse Law
I think it is safe to say that California has one of the most significant -- and for some, controversial -- "elder protection" laws in the U.S. For example, while all states permit state authorities to investigate and intervene in instances of elder abuse, California's statute recognizes a victim's private right of action for damages, arising from physical abuse, neglect, or fiduciary abuse of an elderly or dependent adult. There are certain proof requirements and limitations on the damages that can be awarded under California's Elder Abuse Act, but, where the plaintiff shows clear and convincing evidence of recklessness, oppression, fraud or malice, the prevailing party can also obtain "heightened remedies," including "reasonable attorneys fees" and costs. At the same time, the history of the California law also reflects a legislative tension between a determination to address elder abuse and concern about the potential impact of the broader remedy in so-called traditional "medical malpractice" claims. This tension plays out in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in the long-running case of Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group Inc. In the unanimous decision published May 19. 2016, the court helpfully summarizes its own holding:
We granted review to determine whether the definition of neglect under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Welf. & Inst. Code Section 15600 et seq.; the Elder Abuse Act or Act) applies when a health care provider -- delivering care on an outpatient basis -- failed to refer an elder patient to a specialist. What we conclude is that the Act does not apply unless the defendant health care provider had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship, involving ongoing responsibility for one or more basic needs, with the elder patient.
The court further explains, "It is the nature of the elder or dependent adult's relationship with the defendant -- not the defendant's professional standing -- that makes the defendant potentially liable for neglect. Because defendants did not have a caretaking or custodial relationship with the decedent, we find that plaintiffs cannot adequately allege neglect under the Elder Abuse Act."
The California Supreme Court concluded that the Winn plaintiffs cannot bring a claim for statutory "elder neglect" arising out of allegations that treating physicians failed for two years to refer an 83 year-old woman to a vascular specialist. The suit dates back to 2007-2009, with the patient alleged to have died from complications associated with chronic ulcers of her lower extremities. The unanimous ruling reverses the California Court of Appeals' 2 to 1 ruling in favor of the statutory claim, issued in May 2013.
This ruling does seem to leave nursing homes and similar "custodial" care providers potentially subject to the enhanced remedies of California's Elder Abuse Act.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
The New York Times ran a story on May 2, 2016 that South Dakota is under investigation by the federal government for improperly placing many residents with disabilities in nursing homes instead of providing care in the community. South Dakota Wrongly Puts Thousands in Nursing Homes, Government Says reports that "the Justice Department said ... that thousands of patients were being held unnecessarily in sterile, highly restrictive group homes. That is discrimination, it said, making South Dakota the latest target of a federal effort to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities and mental illnesses, outlined in a Supreme Court decision 17 years ago."
As the story notes, many individuals need the level of care provided by a nursing home, but others do not. "But for untold numbers of others — with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities or chronic diseases — the confines of a nursing home can be unnecessarily isolating. Yet when patients seek help paying for long-term care, states often steer them toward nursing homes, even though it may not be needed." The article discusses the Olmstead decision and the government's strategies in these cases to challenge the placement.
South Dakota responded that they have made progress but the federal government sees it as not enough, especially since this is not a recent situation. "In-home health aides can be less expensive than nursing homes because they do not provide unnecessary services. States, though, face a chicken-or-egg conundrum. Does money go to nursing homes because beds are often more readily available than in-home services? Or are there fewer in-home services because less Medicaid money is spent on them? And nursing homes have little financial incentive to encourage patients to seek in-home care...."
This article can be a great starting point for an interesting discussion with students.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
After my post on an article about adding a long term care benefit to Medicare, Professor Dick Kaplan (prolific author, elder law guru and friend) sent me an email reminding me about an article he wrote in 2004 that discussed the topic. "Cracking the Conundrum: Toward a Rational Financing of Long-Term Care,” is available from his SSRN page. Here is the abstract
This article provides a comprehensive solution to the financing of long-term care for older Americans that balances government and family responsibility, while recognizing the different settings in which long-term care is provided. The article begins by examining the spectrum of long-term care in the United States from home health care to assisted living to nursing homes, as well as hybrids such as continuing care retirement communities. Successive sections of the article then analyze the federal government's health care program for older persons (Medicare), the joint state and federal program for poor people of any age (Medicaid), and private long-term care insurance in terms of how these mechanisms treat long-term care in each setting.
Finding serious deficiencies and inconsistencies in all three mechanisms, the article then offers a co-ordinated alternative: expand Medicare to cover long-term care in nursing homes but maintain responsibility for other long-term care settings with the affected individuals and their families. This approach recognizes that nursing home care substitutes for hospital care that Medicare would otherwise cover, while other long-term care settings substitute for family-provided care. Long-term care insurance would then be used as a means of financing long-term care in settings other than nursing homes, thereby making it more appealing. In addition, such insurance would be less expensive than presently, because it would no longer be priced to cover costly nursing home care. The article also recommends that such insurance be improved by standardizing policy options and features into a fixed set of packages that would be uniform among carriers. Other recommendations include ensuring price stability of issued policies and providing independent reviews of gatekeeper claim denials. The article concludes with some observations regarding financing of these proposals.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Periodically we will see observations about whether Medicare should offer a long term care benefit as part of Medicare coverage (would this be Part E or maybe Part LTC?). It isn't a secret that many often think Medicare has a long term nursing home benefit, confusing what Medicare covers with what Medicaid does. Health Affairs Blog ran a story recently about Medicare and long term care. Medicare Help At Home offers some sobering data
Nine million community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries—about one-fifth of all beneficiaries—have serious physical or cognitive limitations and require long-term services and supports (LTSS) that are not covered by Medicare. Nearly all have chronic conditions that require ongoing medical attention, including three-fourths who have three or more chronic conditions and are high-need, high-risk users of Medicare covered services.
Gaps in Medicare coverage and the lack of integration of medical care and LTSS have serious consequences. Beneficiaries are exposed to potentially high out-of-pocket expenses. Medicaid covers LTSS for very low-income Medicare beneficiaries, but only one-fourth of Medicare beneficiaries with serious physical or cognitive limitations are covered by Medicaid.
The authors offer a 3-part proposal that would expand Medicare coverage to include home and community-based coverages:
A Medicare home and community-based benefit for those with two or more functional limitations, Alzheimer’s, or severe cognitive impairment, according to an individualized care plan based on beneficiary goals. This would cover up to 20 hours a week of personal service worker care or equivalent dollar amount for a range of home and community-based LTSS.
Creation of new Integrated Care Organizations (ICOs) accountable for the delivery and coordination of both medical care and LTSS that meet quality standards, honor beneficiary preferences, and support care partners.
Innovative models of health care delivery including a team approach to care in the home building on promising models of service delivery that improve patient outcomes, reduce emergency department use, prevent avoidable hospitalization, and delay or reduce long-term institutional care.
The article goes on to explain eligibility, beneficiary cost-sharing, financing, care delivery and coverage. The article concludes, offering that with the Baby Boomers " the Medicare program ... was not designed to support their [boomers] preferences for independent living and functioning.
Moving forward, adoption of a home and community based benefit in Medicare would constitute an important first step to helping beneficiaries afford the services and support they need to continue living independently. Adoption of innovative models of care emphasizing care at home or in independent living settings would reduce the difficulty and risk of obtaining services in traditional health care settings such as physician offices and hospitals. It would also reduce beneficiary reliance on Medicaid’s safety-net coverage of institutional care. It is a policy proposal worthy of serious consideration as the nation grapples with Medicare redesign to meet the needs of an aging population.
Monday, March 28, 2016
Kaiser Health News ran a story on March 18, 2016 about co-insurance trends in drug coverages. Coinsurance Trend Means Seniors Likely To Face Higher Out-Of-Pocket Drug Costs, Report Says explains that a new report shows that "Medicare beneficiaries may get dinged with higher prescription drug bills this year because more than half of covered drugs in standalone plans require them to pay a percentage of the cost rather than a flat fee...." This report notes that over half of the Part D covered drugs have a coinsurance payment rather than a fixed copayment. This means greater out of pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries. As a result, predicting a beneficiary's out of pocket costs is more difficult.
The report, Majority of Drugs Now Subject to Coinsurance in Medicare Part D Plans is available here. A pdf of the report is available here.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Kaiser Health News ran a story on March 17, 2016 about long term care insurance policies. Long-Term Care Insurance: Less Bang, More Buck explains how one insured saw her premiums cost almost four times as much if she kept her same coverage. Although an important option for many middle-income Americans, it seems, from the article, that the industry has specific challenges facing it.
[I]insurers botched just about every aspect of the policies they sold in the early days of the industry, said Joseph Belth, a retired professor of insurance at Indiana University known as one of the insurance industry’s toughest critics. They underestimated how long people would live and how long they’d need nursing home care — but overestimated how many people would drop their policies and how much interest insurers could earn on the premiums they banked.
Hemorrhaging money, many insurers left the business. Those that remain are in financial trouble on their long-term care policies. They’re charging far more for new policies, and sharply raising the premiums of old ones.
Not as many companies are offering the coverage as once was and many policy holders may be facing a choice of increased premiums, reducing or dropping coverage. As well, the article notes that many folks don't know the limits of Medicare coverage for long term care. Fewer people are purchasing the policies, but there are now some hybrid options on the market
Fewer people today are buying traditional long-term care insurance policies, which only adds to insurers’ financial woes. Some are considering newer “hybrid” products such as life insurance or annuities that provide a long-term care benefit, but they’re also expensive and some require a large up-front payment.
That’s why pressure is mounting for state and federal lawmakers to come up with ways to finance long-term care for millions of aging baby boomers. Policy proposals abound, such as requiring people to buy subsidized long-term care insurance, much as they now need to buy health insurance. Other ideas include creating a government-run catastrophic plan or allowing people to convert their life insurance policies to long-term care policies. But all of these would require legislative action, and lawmakers at the state and federal level have been slow to act because of the sheer scope of financing Americans’ long-term care.
Monday, February 29, 2016
You recall Medicare's 5 Star Rating System to aid consumers in making choices regarding services and facilities. Kaiser Health News (KHN) ran a story on February 23, 2016 about the difference between how consumers rate facilities vs. how Medicare rates facilities. Dueling Star Ratings May Confuse Some Home Health Patients explains that Medicare assigns stars "primarily based on Medicare’s assessment of how often patients got better. But [looking] further ... may lead to confusion. Medicare also posts stars to convey how patients rate agencies after their care is over."
KHN did a survey on the frequency of these disparities and found that "[s]uch contradictory results between how patients view home health agencies and how the government rates them are hardly unusual."
In a statement, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service said the different star ratings should not be confusing. “CMS stresses that website users should look at all of the different types of measures available for a given provider type, including for home health care agencies,” the statement said. “By providing both clinically based and survey-based measures, CMS hopes to make available to the public a range of perspectives and information that consumers can evaluate to help inform their decision about an agency.”
The disparity at least in part is explained: "[s]ome of the differences between home health care patient experience and clinical quality stars can be chalked up to the fact that the two domains focus on different facets of home health care." The article goes on to quote elder care experts on their views about the reasons for the differences in the rankings. The article wraps up noting it is unknown how many Medicare beneficiaries use the 5-star rating system, and understand them.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Stakeholders and Policymakers Collaborate on Proposals for Better Approach to Financing Long-Term Care
On February 22, 2016, a diverse collection of individuals, representing a broad array of stakeholders interested in long-term care, released their report and recommendations for major changes. In the final report of the Long-Term Care Financing Collaborative (LTCFC) they propose:
•Clear private and public roles for long-term care financing
•A new universal catastrophic long-term care insurance program. This would shift today’s welfare-based system to an insurance model.
•Redefining Medicaid LTSS to empower greater autonomy and choice in services and settings.
•Encouraging private long-term care insurance initiatives to lower cost and increase enrollment.
•Increasing retirement savings and improving public education on long-term care costs and needs.
ElderLawGuy Jeff Marshall wrote to supplement this post by providing details of the report, written by Howard Glecknan of the Utban Institute. Thanks, Jeff!
Members of the Collaborative included:
Gretchen Alkema, The SCAN Foundation; Robert Blancato, Elder Justice Coalition; Sheila Burke, Harvard Kennedy School; Strategic Advisor, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz; Stuart Butler, The Brookings Institution; Marc Cohen, LifePlans, Inc.; Susan Coronel, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP); John Erickson, Erickson Living; Mike Fogarty, former CEO, Oklahoma Health Care Authority; William Galston, The Brookings Institution; Howard Gleckman, Urban Institute; Lee Goldberg, The Pew Charitable Trusts; Jennie Chin Hansen, immediate past CEO, American Geriatrics Society; Ron Pollack, Families USA; Don Redfoot, Consultant; John Rother, National Coalition on Healthcare; Nelson Sabatini, The Artemis Group; Dennis G. Smith, Dentons US LLP; Ron Soloway, UJA-Federation of New York (retired); Richard Teske (1949-2014), Former U.S. Health and Human Services Official; Benjamin Veghte, National Academy of Social Insurance; Paul Van de Water, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP); Audrey Weiner, Jewish Home Lifecare, immediate past Chair, LeadingAge; Jonathan Westin, The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA); Gail Wilensky, Project HOPE;Caryn Hederman, Project Director, Convergence Center for Policy Resolution; Allen Schmitz, Technical Advisor to the Collaborative, Milliman, Inc.
Only Limited Authority as Health Care Agents? The Latest Grounds to Challenge Dreaded Arbitration Clauses in NH Cases
The New York Times offers another window into concerns about pre-dispute binding arbitration provisions that are routinely found in nursing home agreements. This is a long-simmering war, with many battlefronts and tactical arguments, as documented in the article. However, the article also focuses on a narrow group of cases where courts have rejected a binding effect for arbitration clauses signed by someone serving "merely" as a health care agent for the incapacitated resident. (I hope my Contracts course students this semester are reading this article!)
The article offers an additional opportunity to consider the tensions between public policies on either side of the debate over "fairness" of arbitration as a forum for consumer claims:
Arbitration clauses have proliferated over the last 10 years as companies have added them to tens of millions of contracts for things as diverse as cellphone service, credit cards and student loans.. Nursing homes in particular have embraced the clauses, which are often buried in complex contracts that are difficult to navigate, especially for elderly people with dwindling mental acuity or their relatives, who can be emotionally vulnerable when admitting a parent to a home.
State regulators are concerned because the secretive nature of arbitration can obscure patterns of wrongdoing from prospective residents and their families. Recently, officials in 16 states and the District of Columbia urged the federal government to deny Medicaid and Medicare money to nursing homes that use the clauses. Between 2010 and 2014, hundreds of cases of elder abuse, neglect and wrongful death ended up in arbitration, according to an examination by The New York Times of 25,000 arbitration records and interviews with arbitrators, judges and plaintiffs.
Judges have consistently upheld the clauses, The Times found, regardless of whether the people signing them understood what they were forfeiting. It is the most basic principle of contract law: Once a contract is signed, judges have ruled, it is legally binding.
Mr. Barrow’s case [set for trial in Massachusetts] is pivotal because, with the help of his lawyers, he has overcome an arbitration clause by using the fundamentals of contract law to fight back. As is often the case when elderly people are admitted to nursing homes, Mr. Barrow signed the admissions paperwork containing the arbitration clause on his mother’s behalf.
Although his mother had designated Mr. Barrow as her health care proxy — someone who was authorized to make decisions about her medical treatment — his lawyers argued that he did not have the authority to bind his mother to arbitration.
Our thanks to attorneys Karen Miller in Florida and Morris Klein in Maryland, plus Dickinson Law students Joe Carroll, Corey Kysor and Kadeem Morris in Pennsylvania for sending us the link to the NYT coverage.
February 23, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, February 22, 2016
A John A. Hartford Foundation-sponsored study released this month uses Medicare data to examine health care for older Americans, with a self-described "emphasis on the patient's perspective." Both the methodology and the conclusions are intriguing. The researchers report:
For the first time, we measure the intensity of care in terms of how many days per year the average Medicare beneficiary is in contact with the health care system. We can see that beneficiaries in some regions see twice as many unique clinicians for ambulatory care than in others. We also can see in which regions beneficiaries are more likely than not to have a primary care physician as their predominant provider of care.
We also examine the adoption of new evidence-based practices to show that, while some regions showed substantial progress, others still fall short. For example, in some regions, fewer seniors are being prescribed inappropriate high-risk medications, and in others, thirty-day readmission rates are falling. Yet screening tests for prostate cancer and breast cancer among beneficiaries 75 and older remain unnecessarily high, and the data in this report suggest that we are still waiting too long to refer patients to hospice care.
On the one hand, the report demonstrates wide regional variation in the percentage of patients enrolled in "hospice" during the last three days of an individual's life. The researchers conclude: "Referrals to hospice care that are done too late ... adversely affect the quality of care, the reported experiences of patients and families, and their satisfaction with the health care system."
On the other hand, the report cites "clinical evidence" that shows that "feeding tube placement" in patients with advanced dementia "does not prolong life or improve outcomes, and in fact leads to further complications and adverse effects such as the increased use of restraints." Nonetheless, the report shows that in some regions of the country, 12% to 14% of patients with dementia may be on feeding tubes, pointing to locations such as southern California, Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Dearborn, Michigan.
For the full report, see the Dartmouth Atlas project report, "Our Patients, Ourselves: Health Care for an Aging Population."
Further, for an region-specific analysis of the report findings, see iNewsource's "Care for San Diego's Dying Patients Needs to Improve, Study Finds."
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Are you teaching an elder law this semester? If so, and your students are interested in sample papers to help them think about approach, scope, organization and how to provide support for their thesis statements, I've found this batch of articles helpful, even though they are now almost 10 years "old."
The nine short articles by law students (including two former students from my own law school) were published in a student journal following a competition sponsored by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorney (NAELA) and are nicely introduced by my Blogging collaborator, Becky Morgan. They demonstrate an array of topics and writing styles, and thus are useful to discuss in a writing and research class. I'm sorry that the NAELA competition is no longer available to students, as was a very nice way for students to get further mileage from their classroom research on elder law topics, and helped encourage them to revise and polish drafts!
January 20, 2016 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, International, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, January 11, 2016
Our good friend and elder law guru, Professor Dick Kaplan from Illinois has released a new article, Reflections on Medicare at 50: Breaking the Chains of Path Dependency for a New Era. (In my opinion, anything Dick Kaplan writes is a must-read). The article is available for download on SSRN here. The abstract explains more:
On the occasion of Medicare’s 50th anniversary, this Article examines the evolution of this essential program from its enactment in 1965 through implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Persons who are, or soon will be, newly enrolled in Medicare may be especially interested in the first part of this Article, which addresses the coverages, exclusions, and costs of Medicare’s constituent parts and concludes (on pp. 20-21) with seven critical questions that every new beneficiary must consider before enrolling. The Article then proffers policy recommendations to better align Medicare with current models of health insurance and provide more appropriate coverage of long-term care expenses.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
An article in the most recent issue of the ABA Commission on Law & Aging, BIFOCAL focuses on instructional directives. In light of CMS reimbursing doctors for end of life discussions with patients, author Susan P. Shapiro, in The Living Will as Improvisation, suggests "it is appropriate to reflect on the legacy of advance directives and ask how physicians might best serve their patients as they anticipate life’s end."
The author notes that
Although the value of proxy directives, which designate a medical decision maker in the event that a person loses capacity in the future, has been repeatedly demonstrated, that of instructional directives or so-called living wills, which state treatment preferences, has not. A new report by the Institute of Medicine concludes that legal approaches embodied in living wills have “been disappointingly ineffective in improving the care people nearing the end of life receive and in ensuring that this care accords with their informed preferences .... (citations omitted).
However, the author discusses the lack of hard data makes it difficult to determine whether living wills have little usefulness these days. The author turns to her own research, explaining that for 3 years she and hospital social worker
observed medical decision making on behalf of patients without decision-making capacity, day after day, from admission to discharge. Daily observations over the course of each patient’s ICU stay tracked when anyone asked about or referred to an advance directive, how the directive was used, and the correspondence between the patient’s treatment preferences articulated in the directive and the host of decisions made on their behalf....
The article discusses her findings regarding the role of advance directives in these cases . It's quite illuminating, especially the discussion about the correlation (or lack thereof) between the directive's existence and how decisions are made. The author suggests there are significant differences between making the directive when all is well and using the directive when all is not. The author concludes the article with this thought: "[a] truly directive living will is not a script, but rather an evolving, ongoing dialogue throughout the life course with those who may someday be called to improvise on our behalf. Let’s hope that Medicare dollars are used to help enrich the conversation."
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
The Senate Special Committee on Aging is taking up the important issue of drug pricing:
A Senate investigation of drug-price spikes at four companies kicked off Wednesday with specialists from all corners of the health-care system testifying that they're powerless to manage the out-of-control prescription costs.
The hearing launches the Special Committee on Aging's investigation into the soaring prices of old drugs, including the recent overnight price hike of Daraprim from $18 to $750. Doctors and policy experts offered a slew of proposed policy solutions, such as expediting applications for generic drugs to increase competition and requiring companies to reveal how much drugs really cost.
But the testimony to the committee in advance of the hearing underlined a stark fact about the current system, too: Doctors, companies that manage prescription drug benefits, hospitals, and health care policy experts alike feel fairly powerless to control high drug prices -- because they are allowed.
For instance, a pediatrician from the University of Alabama at Birmingham testified that an infant needed a treatment that had increased from $54 a month to $3,000 a month, causing the pharmacist to scramble for a solution. A kidney transplant patient in Baltimore began experiencing hallucinations as her medical team tried to obtain a drug once easily available.
For more coverage, read the Washington Post's article, Doctors, Hospitals Condemn Out-of-control Drug Prices as Senate Investigation Begins.