Monday, February 29, 2016

Five Star Rating System: Clarity or Confusion?

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.

February 29, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

The full report is available here.  

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.

February 23, 2016 in Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, Retirement, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (1)

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.

For more, read Pivotal Nursing Home Suit Raises a Simple Question: Who Signed the Contract?

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

Feeding Tubes at End of Life? Study Uses Medicare-Data to Evaluate Care for Older Patients

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."

February 22, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Teaching an Elder Law Seminar This Semester?

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

Another Must Read from Professor Kaplan

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.

January 11, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Living Wills: Do they have utility in end of life decision-making?

An article in the most recent issue of the ABA Commission on Law & AgingBIFOCAL 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."

December 31, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Is There a New "War on Drugs" -- or rather, on Drug Pricing?

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.

December 15, 2015 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Costs of Dementia-Part Three

Money Magazine's final article in the series on the costs of dementia focuses on the costs in the final stages of the disease. Coping With the Costs of Dementia: The Final Stage discusses the costs and the options for caring for an individual in the final stage of this disease.

In the final stages of dementia, which typically last four to five years, the need for care intensifies. [One's] spouse eventually will require around-the-clock assistance with most activities of daily living. [One's] toughest decision: whether to try to continue caregiving at home or move [one's] loved one to an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. [One] may feel guilty at the prospect of putting someone [one] love[s] in “a home”—that’s common and understandable—but a setting where professionals are providing the intense level of care needed at this point is often the best path, especially if they’re trained in the needs of dementia patients. That said, it’s also the most expensive care option by far.

The article urges caregivers to take proactive action, suggests caregivers pick a nursing home with a memory care unit, get advice on the order in which to spend assets and start planning for the caregiver's own future.  "Caring for someone with dementia is emotionally exhausting and financially draining, but it comes with one particular satisfaction: knowing that you’ve done whatever you can to make the last years easier for someone you love."

December 7, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Costs of Dementia-Part Two

Money Magazine's second article on the costs of dementia focuses on the middle stage of dementia. Coping With the Costs of Dementia: The Middle Stage discusses a series of steps for the caregivers and family to take, not only for the present, but in positioning themselves for the final stage of the disease.  The article discusses a number of suggestions:

  • greater levels of care, including adult day care and respite care and recommends only hiring caregivers with experience in caring for individuals with dementia;
  • examine the terms of any long term care insurance policy, if the individual has one;
  • if the individual is a veteran, look into VA benefits;
  • examine the individual's and family member's investment portfolio; rearranging allocations to more conservative investments may be needed;
  • investigate a reverse mortgage;
  • caregivers should talk to employers about options; and
  • begin to research nursing homes.

December 6, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Medicaid-It's Complicated and Important

Huffington Post's Post50's blog on November 29 featured the post, 5 Common Misconceptions About Medicaid.  The author, Anne Tumlinson,opens the post

I have a confession. I've been avoiding writing about Medicaid. It's so complicated it scares me. But, Medicaid can be really important to daughterhood because someday you might have to decide if it's right for your parent. So you have to get smart about it.

She explains the importance of the Medicaid program as a "safety net for when everything falls apart" and after a brief description, moves into a discussion of the 5 misconceptions:

  1. "Medicaid is a lot like Medicare...
  2. Medicaid is available to everyone...
  3. Medicaid Will Take Your Parents' Home...
  4. Medicaid is a national program that's the same for everyone...
  5. Medicaid only covers nursing homes...."

With each she offers explanations as to what Medicaid really covers and concludes her post noting

When is Medicaid right for your parent? It depends on so many individual and family circumstances. And, it depends on your state. There are no hard and fast rules. But, if you've been walking down this caregiving road for a long time and you are looking at nursing home care, Medicaid may be necessary to pay for the care. OR, if your parent's money is running out because of expensive care --- even if he or she isn't in a nursing home --- then it could be helpful, especially if there's a good community program in your parent's local area... [a]nd, figuring this program out for your family is not easy. Just remember that it's a crazy complicated hard situation. Not that you are failing.

Note, you can also access her post on her blog here.

 

November 30, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Understanding the 2016 Medicare Part B premiums

Prior to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 , all indications pointed to a pretty significant increase in the 2016 Part B premiums for Medicare. However, the increase was much less than expected in part because of the compromise in the Budget Bill. The Kaiser Family Foundation released a very helpful issue brief on November 11, 2015, explaining  the developments and the impact on beneficiaries.  What's in Store for Medicare's Part B Premiums and Deductible in 2016, and Why? explains the premium increase, the hold harmless provision and a $3 repayment surcharge to make up the deficit Part B will incur in 2016 because of the lower premium. ("includes a $3 repayment surcharge, which will be added to monthly premiums over time to cover the cost of the reduced premium rate in 2016.")

The brief explains the hold harmless provision, identifies the categories of beneficiaries who will have to pay the higher premiums (and why) and the amount of premiums paid by higher income beneficiaries. The brief also offers a projection for 2017 and concludes that but for Congressional intervention, "in the face of flat Social Security benefits and rising out-of-pocket costs, many people on Medicare could have greater difficulty affording their medical care costs in the coming year."

November 22, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

They're Out...CMS releases 2016 premium and co-pay amounts

CMS has released the 2016 amounts for deductibles, premiums, and co-pays for Medicare A and B.  The Inpatient Hospital Deductible and Hospital and Extended Care Services Coinsurance Amounts  are available in the Federal Register here. (The inpatient deductible is $1,288 for 2016). The Part B amounts are available here.  Remember because there is no COLA this year, the hold harmless provision keeps the Part B premium the same as last year for many Medicare Beneficiaries.  For those not protected by the hold harmless provision, their Part B premiums will be $121.80+ $3.  Don't forget that higher income beneficiaries will pay a higher premium, referred to as the income-related monthly adjustment.  The higher premium amounts can be found here as well.

November 19, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

SNF rooms to hot for residents

Living in a Sunbelt state, I know how hot it can get in the summer months.  I recently ran across a July 2015 decision from HHS' Departmental Appeals Board (DAB) reviewing the imposition of a "per instance" monetary penalty CMS assessed against an Arizona SNF.

CMS’s allegations in this case are predicated on complaints that portions of Petitioner’s facility – including several residents’ rooms – were uncomfortably hot. Those allegations are supported by the complaints of several residents and by temperature readings taken by a surveyor on July 16, 2014. Readings taken by the surveyor showed portions of some of the residents’ rooms being as hot as 90 degrees Fahrenheit.... Such temperatures plainly exceed what any reasonable person would consider to be "comfortable." On their face they comprise violations of 42 C.F.R. § 483.15(h)(6).

After discussing the ways the surveyor and the SNF measured the temperatures inside the SNF, the ALJ in the opinion notes

The overwhelming evidence is that rooms at Petitioner’s facility were uncomfortably hot due to the failure of the facility’s air conditioning system. Arizona in July is a very hot place. Building interiors in that State that are not adequately air conditioned can become dangerously hot. As Petitioner admits, the air conditioning in its facility had failed to work adequately in July 2014. The failure prompted residents to complain that their rooms had become uncomfortably hot.... The staff took various measures to address the failure of the air conditioning system, including closing curtains in residents’ rooms and conducting random temperature checks....

"The evidence that residents were not comfortable is overwhelming, beginning with these residents’ complaints and further evidenced by the fact that Petitioner’s own staff recognized that there were problems with overheating in the residents’ rooms."  The ALJ upheld the penalty.

 

 

November 18, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Health Affairs Publishes Report on New Models for Long-Term Services and Supports

Coinciding with the presentation yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the journal Health Affairs released a report  by Melissa Favreault, Howard Gleckman, and Richard W. Johnson, titled "Financing Long-Term Services And Supports: Options Reflect Trade-Offs For Older Americans And Federal Spending."  Noting the history of weak buy-in for existing long-term care insurance products, the authors' study, funded by the SCAN Foundation, AARP and LeadingAge, looks to future alternatives.  From the abstract:

To show how policy changes could expand insurance’s role in financing these needs, we modeled several new insurance options. Specifically, we looked at a front-end-only benefit that provides coverage relatively early in the period of disability but caps benefits, a back-end benefit with no lifetime limit, and a combined comprehensive benefit. We modeled mandatory and voluntary versions of each option, and subsidized and unsubsidized versions of each voluntary option. We identified important differences among the alternatives, highlighting relevant trade-offs that policy makers can consider in evaluating proposals. If the primary goal is to significantly increase insurance coverage, the mandatory options would be more successful than the voluntary versions. If the major aim is to reduce Medicaid costs, the comprehensive and back-end mandatory options would be most beneficial.

The full article is linked here. Several related pieces are also on the Health Affairs website.  Much to read and evaluate here and helpful for those planning spring Elder Law courses. 

November 18, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Health Poll September 2015

The Kaiser Health Network September, 2015 tracking poll  tackled several issues. The one I was most interested in was the results on the public's view of end of life care.

As the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services prepares to finalize a plan to pay physicians for discussing end-of-life treatment options with Medicare patients, this month’s Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that about 8 in 10 of the public favors Medicare and private insurance covering such discussions and about 9 in 10 say doctors should have these discussions with their patients. However, relatively few (17 percent) say they’ve had such discussions with a doctor or other health care provider, including 27 percent of people age 65 or older, while half of the public says they would want to have such a discussion. Over 8 in 10 say they would feel very comfortable talking about their end-of-life medical wishes with their spouse or partner and closer to half say they would be very comfortable talking with a doctor, their children, their close friends or their parents....

The detailed discussion of the poll results provides interesting statistics. Consider the following:

About 9 in 10 (89 percent) say doctors should discuss end-of-life care issues with their patients. But, relatively few (17 percent) say they’ve had such discussions with a doctor or other health care provider, including 34 percent of people age 75 or more, 23 percent of people age 65-74, 19 percent of those age 50-64 and 12 percent of those age 18-49. In addition, those who report having a debilitating disability or chronic condition are more likely to say they have discussed their end-of-life care wishes with a health care provider than those without a disability (31 percent vs. 13 percent). A third of the public says they have participated in a discussion with a doctor about another family member’s wishes about their care at the end of life, including 46 percent of those ages 50-64. Across age groups, many say they would want to have such a discussion about their own end-of-life care (50 percent overall).

The full poll results are available here.

 

October 28, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Evidence Based End of Life Care?

The New England Journal of Medicine published a perspective piece, Toward Evidence-Based End-of-Life Care.

In the last month of life, one in two Medicare beneficiaries visits an emergency department, one in three is admitted to an intensive care unit,and one in five has inpatient surgery. But one of the most sobering facts is that no current policy or practice designed to improve care for millions of dying Americans is backed by a fraction of the evidence that the Food and Drug Administration would require to approve even a relatively innocuous drug.

The article explains why this evidence is important

The public and private sectors are now engaged in an unprecedented array of virtuous efforts to improve end-of-life care. That these efforts are generally not evidence-based is not the fault of the organizations promoting them. It is the responsibility of investigators and research sponsors to identify, develop, and rigorously test interventions so that they can offer guidance as growing political and cultural tolerance increasingly permits implementation of end-of-life care programs. Achieving evidence-based end-of-life care will require at least four key developments — which, fortunately, are now attainable.

The article discusses the four key developments and notes in conclusion "the central challenge is to avoid complacency regarding plausibly useful but non–evidence-based initiatives. Researchers, research sponsors, and large insurers, employers, and health systems can collaborate to advance knowledge about what works best for whom. And the sooner they do so, the better...."

October 20, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Medicare Part B Premiums in 2016-OUCH for Some Beneficiaries

It's that time of year...CMS releasing the 2016 figures for Medicare. For some beneficiaries, the amount of their Part B premiums and deductibles is going to be a big OUCH!  The New York Times ran an editorial on October 10, 2015 on how the premiums and deductibles are calculated and what it means for some beneficiaries in 2016. The Unlucky Millions Paying More for Medicare explains

Under a 1997 law, premium payments must cover 25 percent of the projected per capita costs for Part B. The premiums, which can rise and fall from year to year, are usually deducted from beneficiaries’ Social Security payments each month. A “hold harmless” provision guarantees that for most people the dollar amount of a premium increase cannot be so big that they are left with a Social Security check that is less than that of the year before. The goal is to ensure that beneficiaries, most of whom have modest incomes, don’t have less money to live on.

Since there will be no Social Security COLA for 2016 but Part B premiums are set to rise, the impact is going to hit hard a certain group of beneficiaries:

The roughly 70 percent of beneficiaries who are “held harmless” will pay the same premium as last year. That means the increased cost will have to be made up by the other 30 percent, because of the rule that premiums must cover one-quarter of Part B costs. This group includes 2.8 million new enrollees, 1.6 million people who don’t collect Social Security benefits and 3.1 million higher-income beneficiaries.

How big a hit will this group take? A pretty big one.  Consider this in dollar amounts. 

The Part B premium has been just under $105 a month for three years, but it is projected to reach $159 in 2016 and then drop to $120 in 2017.

Similarly, the Part B deductible, which must be paid by everyone on Medicare (no one is “held harmless”), will rise from $147 in 2015 to $223 in 2016, before falling back to $169 in 2017. This will pose a particular burden to beneficiaries just above the poverty line who aren’t eligible for assistance from Medicaid in paying deductibles.

The editorial calls for action by Congress to resolve the way premiums are determined. But for now, OUCH!

October 14, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Keeping Track of Preventive Services

Trying to keep straight all of the preventive services available to individuals is daunting, but the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) has made it easy with their new tool, Preventive Services Tracker.   There are separate trackers for each condition including cancer chronic conditions, immunizations, sexual health, health promotions and preganancy-based.  Organized into easy-to-use charts,, each chart provides information on the required service, the target population, the recommendation, coverage clarifications and effective dates.  The charts also provide links for each required service to explain more details.

You might also want to check out their article on Preventive Services Covered by Private Health Plans Under the Affordable Care Act and the accompanying fact sheet.

 

September 27, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Family Caregivers Show Support for Pennsylvania State Assistance at State Capitol

If you have worked in Elder Law long enough, you have probably received a panicked call from a family caregiver who is unprepared for a loved one to be discharged on short notice from hospital care.

2015-capitol-caregiving-event-tamesha-keelOn September 22, the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg was crowded with individuals wearing coordinated colors, showing their support for Pennsylvania Caregivers, including family members who are often struggling with financial and practical challenges in caring for frail elders. Here's a link to a CBS-21-TV news report, with eloquent remarks from Tamesha Keel (also pictured left), who has first-hand experience as a stay-at-home caregiver for her own aging mother.  Tamesha recently joined our law school as Director of Career Services.

AARP helped to rally support for House Bill 1329, the Pennsylvania CARE Act.  The acronym, coined as part of a national campaign by AARP to assist family caregivers, stands for Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable Act.  HB 1329  passed the Pennsylvania House in July 2015 and is now pending in the Pennsylvania Senate.

We have written on this Blog before about pending CARE legislation in other states.  A central AARP-supported goal is to achieve better coordination of aftercare, starting with identification of patient-chosen caregivers who should receive notice in advance of any discharge of the patient from the hospital.  Pennsylvania's version of the CARE Act would require hospitals to give both notice and training, either in person or by video, to such caregivers about how to provide appropriate post-discharge care in the home. 

I'd actually like to see a bit more in Pennsylvania. It is unfortunate that the Pennsylvania CARE Act, at least in its current iteration (Printer's Number 1883), does not go further by requiring written notice, delivered at least a minimum number of hours in advance of the actual discharge. AARP's own model act suggests a minimum of 4 hours, consistent with Medicare rules.

Under Federal Law, Medicare-participating hospitals must deliver advance written notice of a discharge plan, and such notice must explain the patient's rights to appeal an inadequate plan or premature discharge. A timely appeal puts a temporary hold on the discharge. See the Center for Medicare Advocacy's (CMA) summary of key provisions of Medicare law on hospital discharges, applicable even if a patient at the Medicare-certified hospital isn't a Medicare-patient. CMA's outline also suggests some weaknesses of the Medicare notice requirement.

AARP's original CARE Act proposals are important and evidence-based, seeking to improve the patient's prospects for post-hospitalization care through better advance planning. At the same time, there's some irony for me in reading the Pennsylvania legislature's required "fiscal impact" report on HR 1329, as it reports a "0" dollar impact.  That may be true from the Pennsylvania government's cost perspective, but for the hospitals, to do it right, whether in person or by video, training is unlikely to be revenue neutral.  I think we need to talk openly about the costs of providing effective education or training to home caregivers.

If passed by the Senate, Pennsylvania's CARE Act would be not become effective for another 12 months.  The bill further provides for evaluation of the effectiveness of the rules on patient outcomes.   

As is so often true, states are constantly juggling the need for reforms to solve identified problems, with the costs of such reforms.  Perhaps the current version of the Pennsylvania bill reflects some compromises among stakeholders. According to this press statement, the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania supports the current version of AARP's Pennsylvania CARE Act.

September 24, 2015 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)