Tuesday, December 31, 2013
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has issued preliminary results on its evaluation of "pre-dispute arbitration provisions," used in many contracts for consumer financial service products, such as credit cards, checking accounts or pay-day loans. Congress commanded the study as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.
Consumers probably end up viewing these clauses as triggering "mandatory" arbitration, in that consumers typically "consent" by signing agreements without any real understanding of the implications. The report summarizes both pro and con arguments on the use of pre-dispute arbitration provisions.
The study makes strong use of academic research, including recent work by Peter Rutledge (University of Georgia Law) and Christopher Drahozal (Kansas Law), Jean Sternlight (UNLV Law), and my own colleague and friend, Nancy Welsh (Penn State Law).
Much of the CFPB report focuses on what it calls the "front end" of arbitration issues, identifying a host of arbitration-related factors addressed in corporate contracts, such as opt-out rights, arbitrator selection, limits on recoverable damages, time limits for claims, and allocation of costs.
Reading between the lines of the report's preliminary findings, it seems to me to support the view that companies use arbitration as a procedural barrier to consumer challenges, including class actions. At the same time, statistics cited in the report suggest that companies may dispense with arbitration when pursuing collection from defaulting consumers, instead filing suits in small claims courts (the CFPB will address federal and other state court claims in the future).
This seems consistent with what I observed during my 10+ years with Penn State Law's Elder Protection Clinic, where we frequently represented older clients on debt claims. Many of these claims were "old" debts, where our clients had been making minimum payments for years, but were no longer able to keep up with the payments after retirement, particularly if also confronted with new debt from medical crises. I don't recall any of the collection cases being initiated by arbitration. By filing in court, the companies seemed to hope for a low-cost route to default judgments.
The New York Times cites the CFPB study in a recent editorial, calling for a change in laws to permit consumers an effective legal tool when needed to challenge certain corporate practices, pointing out that:
"In disputes over financial products — involving, say, excessive fees, inflated loan balances, faulty credit reporting, or fraud and discrimination — the damages at stake may be significant for an individual but not enough to warrant the cost of a legal challenge unless grouped in a class action. Forced arbitration also fosters abuse, since there is no check on wrongdoing that takes small amounts of money from potentially millions of customers."
The CFPB notes that its December 2013 findings will be followed by a more complete report, expected in 2014.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Washington Post reporters Peter Whoriskey and Dan Keating use more than ten years of data from California to provide a detailed portrait of hospice, with national implications, concluding that providers are pursuing "healthier" patients to increase their margin. While acknowledging the importance of Medicare-supported hospice for individuals legitimately diagnosed with less than six months to live, the Washington Post article uses survival rates to suggest manipulation of the diagnosis for financial gain:
"[T]he survival rates at AseraCare are emblematic of a problem facing Medicare, which has created a financial incentive for hospice companies to find patients well before death. Medicare pays a hospice about $150 a day per patient for routine care, regardless of whether the company sends a nurse or any other worker out on that day. That means healthier patients, who generally need less help and live longer, yield more profits.
The trend toward longer stays on hospice care may be costing Medicare billions of dollars a year. In 2011, nearly 60 percent of Medicare’s hospice expenditure of $13.8 billion went toward patients who stay on hospice care longer than six months, MedPAC, the Medicare watchdog group created by Congress, has reported."
For the full Washington Post story, itemizing factors contributing to misuse of hospice, see "Hospice Firms Drain Millions from Medicare."
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
A study released in December by the Stanford Center on Longevity addresses one of my frequent concerns. Reports on elder abuse, particularly those on financial abuse and exploitation, routinely include a statement to the effect that "X number of financial fraud cases were examined during the year" but that that more time/money/energy should be devoted to addressing the problem "because X plus Y number of cases exist" but are unreported. There is rarely any explanation for the prediction. While I accept that there is likely to be underreporting, don't we need better measurement tools than intuition?
In "The Scope of the Problem: An Overview of Fraud Prevelance Measurement," Stanford researchers address exactly this issue. "'Without accurate and reliable estimates of fraud,' wrote Martha Deevy, director of the Financial Security Division at the Stanford Center on Longevity, 'it is difficult to understand what works or does not work to protect victims from harm.'" The problem may be not just underreporting, but "underadmitting," especially for victims of elder abuse.
The Stanford report illustrates how analysis of recent sources and methodology can explain variations in predictions, thus also helping to design better tools for the future, including better surveys. For example, they point to the 2011 study of elder abuse in New York State by Lachs & Berman, "notable as a comprehensive endeavor that used multiple sources of data and collaboration among community, governmental, and academic partners to get a sense of the 'big picture' problem."
Thanks to my colleague, Laurel Terry, for sharing this report. Laurel and Howard are the justifiably proud parents of a Stanford sophomore.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
From the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, a paper on "Older Adult Debt and Financial Frailty" by Annamaria Lusardi (George Washington Univ. of Business) and Olivia Mitchell (Wharton, Univ. of Penn.). The authors compare data from three different time periods to analyze older persons' debt, debt management practices and corresponding potential for financial insecurity. Key findings include:
- Older Americans now on the verge of retirement are more likely to have substantial debt than in the past. "Median debt for those age 56-61 has more than quadrupled, from about $6,200 in 1992 to $28,300 in 2008 (in 2012 dollars)."
- Housing purchased with small down payments and subject to large mortgages are key reasons for higher debt for Boomer retirees.
- Income, level of education, marriage status, race, number of children, health, were also factors identified as affecting risk of financial insecurity after retirement.
One sentence that particularly stood out: "Baby Boomers are more likely to have engaged in expensive borrowing practices."
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
At the LeadingAge annual meeting in Dallas, earlier this week, I attended a round table session hosted by representatives of the Elder Justice Working Group (EJWG), a component of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC). The two presenters sought response from the audience, which included individuals from CCRCs, nursing homes, senior housing authorities and other providers of senior living or senior care, to the EJCC's Principles for Action (developed from 9 proposals of the EJWG) aimed at improving national awareness and response to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Here are the first 3 of 9 Principles:
"1. Support the investigations and prosecution of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation cases,
2. Support and protect elder victims by improving identification of elder abuse and enhancing response and outreach to victims.
3. Develop a national Adult Protective Services system based upon standardized data collection and a core set of service provision standards and best practices."
For addtional information on recommended federal action, including the other 6 principles, see details reported at the most recent, September meeting of the EJCC.
Our LeadingAge roundtable session focused on practical concerns, including the frustrations felt by some in the room in reporting suspected abuse at a local level, but seeing no response.
I was struck by the very diverse makeup of the individuals choosing to attend a session on elder abuse, both in terms of race and geography, drawing from Maine to Hawaii -- and on to Guam, and thus strongly supporting the EJCC's concerns about nationalized data collection and the need for standardized reporting.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
With a hat tip to Professor Laurel Terry for sharing this NPR-linked post from Robert Krulwich, check out stats on how American men and woman compare to those in other developed countries in terms of "surviving" to old age. Here's an excerpt, commenting on the trend:
"In 2011, the National Institutes of Health issued a report that tried to make sense of it all. Right away, they found our weak spot. 'U.S. women have relatively high mortality rates at the younger older ages,' they said, which means when women hit their 55th birthdays, for the next almost 20 years, roughly 55 to 75, they will die more often than women in comparable countries. Americans get more lung disease, more heart disease, more diabetes. If Americans reach 75, they get competitive again, but that early old age is where we lose ground. American men showed pretty much the same weakness at roughly the same times.
The authors declared themselves puzzled. 'The relatively poor performance of the United States," they wrote, is "perhaps all the more surprising in light of the fact that the United States spends far more on health care than any other nation in the world, both absolutely and as a percentage of gross national product.'
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Sweden is the best place in the world to be old and Afghanistan the worst, according to a UN-backed global study. The Global AgeWatch Index examined the quality of life of the elderly in 91 countries. It warns that many countries do not have adequate support in place for their ageing populations. By 2050, older people will outnumber children under 15 for the first time, with most of the elderly in developing countries, it said. The Global AgeWatch Index was complied by the UN Population Fund and advocacy group HelpAge International, and released to mark the UN's Day of Older Persons. Researchers used 13 different indicators - including income and employment, health provision, education, and environment - in what they said was the first study of kind to be conducted on a global scale. The study's authors say countries across the world face an ongoing challenge from the rapidly ageing global population.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Despite modest gains in the economy in 2012, national poverty rates remain virtually unchanged from last year. However, a new study highlights one group that has unexpectedly fallen deeper into poverty: elderly women. Among women 65 and older, the ‘extreme poverty’ rate rose 18% in 2012. Extreme poverty is defined as an annual income of $5,500 or less for older individuals living by themselves. “The cause has to be something that hits elderly individuals particularly hard,” said Kate Gallagher Robbins, a senior policy analyst at the National Women’s Law Center, who conducted the study. ”We also know that poverty for elderly men and women was statistically unchanged so we are talking about a group of individuals who went from being poor to extremely poor.”
The extreme poverty rate for elderly women ticked up to 3.1% in 2012 from 2.6% in 2011. An additional 135,000 elderly women became categorized as extremely poor, bringing the total number of elderly women in extreme poverty to 733,000. Sixty-two percent of elderly women in this group are white, non-Hispanic, 16% are Hispanic, 17% are black, 4% are Asian and 2% are Native American.
The National Women’s Law Center is currently exploring potential reasons for the sudden increase.
“One factor might be cuts in recent years to Social Security Administration funding which may be making applications for [Supplemental Security Income] more difficult,” Robbins wrote in an email to MSNBC.com. “Without Social Security, almost 15.3 million more elderly individuals would have been poor in 2012, yet many policy makers are debating switching the cost-of-living adjustment to the chained CPI which will reduce the value of benefits for current beneficiaries. Clearly these data show that making such cuts would be unconscionable.”
Another cause for the rise in the extreme poverty rate for this group may have to do with unemployment insurance benefits. Since older workers are more likely to be unemployed for longer periods of time, the likelihood that their unemployment insurance benefits expired, or even cut, between 2011 and 2012 is high.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
In the United States alone, some 23,000 people die each year from infections casued by bacteria that are resistent to antibiotics. That's just one important statistic from the report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Antibiotic resistant infections can affect any age, but why is this also a major "elder" issue? Becaue nursing homes and hospitals -- and their residents or patients -- are on the front lines of the battle with resistaint strains. For more on the chilling history and the CDC's call for action, see here.
The CDC website is a great source for information on Healthy and Safe Aging, including video segments useful to spark class discussions.
Update: The CDC report and measures to control overuse of antibiotics will be the topic of a panel discussion on The Diane Rehm Show on public radio on September 18, 2013.
Friday, August 30, 2013
NBC's Today Show featured Edythe Kirchmaier, who at 105+, uses her humor and upbeat personality to banter with talk show hosts and interviewers. She redefines the meaning of "spry," recently passing the test to renew her driver's license, after more than 85 years without so much as a parking ticket, much less a driving violation. Best of all, she's celebrating 40 years of volunteer service at Direct Relief International, calling it her second home.
Edythe is an important part of the national economy. Seniors contribute huge numbers of volunteer hours, with rates of older volunteers increasing over the last several years. One study reports:
"The proportion of older adults who volunteer 100 or more hours a year is 46 percent higher today than in 1974. Today, 46.1 percent of older adults volunteer 100 or more hours a year while 31.6 percent of older adults volunteered 100 or more hours in 1974."
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
The first day of class, I give my students the U.S. Census Bureau's "Global Aging Quiz". It's a great way to get them thinking about the kinds of issues raised by demographic aging. I use the quiz to provide a context for my introduction to elder law (Chapter 1 of my casebook)...and to get them used to the idea of interactive discussion and participation. It works--kind of.
Access the quiz via U.S. Census Bureau (Kinsella, et al.) An Aging World (2009) (pp. 5-6).
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Since my 2010 Fulbright sabbatical in Northern Ireland, I've become more attuned to research resources outside of the U.S. That's what sabbaticals should do, right? Broaden our professional horizons!
One of the sites I find useful is the International Longevity Centre in the U.K., which is known as a think-tank seeking to impact policy on longevity, ageing and population change. Plus, it is always fun to try to remember where I am on the U.S./Britain "divide" on proper spelling of key terms such as aging or ageing!Here are a few interesting statistics featured in the ILC's recent “Factpack”:
- At 12.2 million, the number of pensioners in the UK is equivalent to the combined populations of Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
- One third of babies born in 2012 in the UK are expected to survive to celebrate their 100th birthday.
- Health Life Expectancy at birth is 63.5 years for men and 65.7 for women. Increase in life expectancy is currently outstripping the increase in HLE.
- Spending on long-term care is projected to rise by around £14bn by 2061/62.
- In June 2013 there were over 1 million workers over the age of 65 in the UK – the highest since records began.
- 28% of those aged 75 and over have internet access in their home. 3% of over 75s own a smart phone.
How would statistics compare in your state or country? Feel free to add your comment below.
Monday, November 1, 2010
China began tallying its population on Monday for the first time since 2000, an arduous task likely to be made even tougher by the need to count scores of millions of migrant workers in the nation’s big cities.
The government said it had sent more than six million census-takers out to survey 400 million households, including the shantytowns and dormitories that often house rural men who have flooded into the cities to work in factories and on construction projects.
In the five censuses since the Communist government took power in 1949, migrants were listed as living where their homes were registered instead of where they actually lived. By disregarding the hukou, as the registration regime is called, the government hopes to get its first accurate count of city dwellers.
The last major census a decade ago counted 1.265 billion mainland Chinese citizens, of which 807 million were placed in rural areas. The latest United Nations estimate two years ago projected that the population would reach 1.396 billion this year, and the organization’s 2003 estimate projected that by this year the population would be split about equally between cities and rural areas.
But analyses vary widely, and the sheer volume of migrants — 160 million is the middle ground of estimates — are a demographic wild card that could reshape perceptions of China’s population. The 2010 census is expected not only to better document the rural-to-urban migration, but to shed new light on a number of impending demographic shifts, including a rapid fall in the number of young people, a similarly sharp growth in the number of elderly and a decline in the size of the workforce.
Those and other trends may lessen some of the social and economic pressures on Chinese society, like the furious scramble to create enough jobs for new workers. But they are also likely to create others, including rising costs for social services like pensions and changes in the structure of the economy.
Census officials said in a briefing last week that they were taking extra steps to encourage cooperation from some classes of citizens who might hide from census-takers, including undocumented migrant laborers and families that have quietly violated a 30-year-old policy limiting many households to one child.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Older adult volunteers can provide an 800% return on investment to nonprofits, says a new report released today by NCOA. The report, The Boomer Solution: Skilled Talent to Meet Nonprofit Needs, is the result of a three-year collaborative study of more than 60 nonprofits nationwide.
The Boomer Solution outlines how nonprofits can best capitalize on the growing influx of boomer talent into the volunteer workforce to advance their missions in the community.
“With the number of older volunteers on the rise, there has never been a better time for nonprofits to leverage the power of older adults to help meet important social needs in our communities,” says Thomas Endres, vice president of Civic Engagement at NCOA. “This timely report provides new ideas and insights, brings best practices to the table, and demonstrates the value of this nonprofit capacity-building model.”
As part of the study, funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, nonprofits developed and tested various models of integrating skilled older adult volunteers with nonprofit staff. Volunteers were placed in leadership roles and positions within nonprofit organizations that matched their area of expertise.
Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and marketplace wage data, NCOA developed a return on investment measurement tool to compare the expense of recruiting, training, and maintaining skilled volunteers to the value of volunteers’ service.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics releases Older Americans 2008: Key Indicators of Well Being
This report provides the latest data on the 38 key indicators selected by the Forum to portray aspects of the lives of older Americans and their families. It is divided into five subject areas: population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors, and health care.
Press Notes (DOC)
- Retirement Resources Workshop:
Exploring the implications of resource disparities among
adults nearing retirement
(December 5, 2008, 1-4 pm) (pdf)
- Report Data Table
Workshop Presentations, Papers, and Reports
Data Sources on Older Americans 2009 highlights the aging-related products currently available from member agencies of the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics (Forum) as well as other Federal agencies. Some data bases or surveys could be listed under more than one agency. Federal agencies often jointly develop data, but produce reports that reflect differing agency missions. For example, the Current Population Survey (CPS) is sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and fielded by the U.S. Census Bureau. Reports based on CPS data and issued by the two agencies differ. BLS reports focus on employment and labor force topics, while U.S. Census Bureau reports focus on living arrangements. Get the report here:http://www.agingstats.gov/agingstatsdotnet/Main_Site/Data/2009_Documents/Final_DSOA2009_508.pdf
Saturday, January 16, 2010
This popular brochure contains the latest key statistics on older Americans. It includes both narrative and statistical charts. The 2009 edition is only available online. Get it here.
The following are some of the highlights of the Profile of Older Americans.
* The population 65 and over will increase from 35 million in 2000 to 40 million in 2010 (a 15% increase) and then to 55 million in 2020 (a 36% increase for that decade).
* The 85+ population is projected to increase from 4.2 million in 2000 to 5.7 million in 2010 (a 36% increase) and then to 6.6 million in 2020 (a 15% increase for that decade).
* The number of Americans aged 45-64 - who will reach 65 over the next two decades - increased by 31% during this decade.
* In 2008, 19.6% of persons 65+ were minorities--8.3% were African-Americans. Persons of Hispanic origin (who may be of any race) represented 6.8% of the older population. About 3.4% were Asian or Pacific Islander, and less than 1% were American Indian or Native Alaskan. In addition, 0.6% of persons 65+ identified themselves as being of two or more races.
* Minority populations are projected to increase from 5.7 million in 2000 (16.3% of the elder population) to 8.0 million in 2010 (20.1% of elders) and then to 12.9 million in 2020 (23.6% of the elders).
* About 3.7 million elders (9.7%) were below the poverty level in 2008 which is not statistically different from the poverty rate in 2007 (9.7%).
* About 471,000 grandparents aged 65 or more had the primary responsibility for their grandchildren who lived with them.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Due to confidentiality requirements, access to the NHIS Linked SSA Files is available only through the NCHS Research Data Center (RDC). For more information on the updated NHIS Linked SSA files, please visit:
The NCHS RDC offers on-site and remote access capabilities. Interested researchers must submit an application to the NCHS RDC. For more information on the NCHS RDC visit:
To assist researchers interested in accessing the restricted-use NHIS Linked SSA files, NCHS has created publicly available NHIS Linked SSA Feasibility Study data files that can be downloaded directly from the following website:
The NHIS Linked SSA Feasibility Study data files provides information about which survey respondents have been successfully linked to SSA data and which types of benefit records will be available for each linked survey respondent. This file should serve as a tool for researchers interested in assessing potential sample sizes and feasibility of pursuing a RDC application. It is important to note that the feasibility study
files do not contain any specific information about SSA benefits.
For more information on NCHS data linkage activities, visit:"
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The New York Academy of Medicine's Social Work Leadership Institute has released a new evidence database to support aging research. This is an easy-to-use online database to help scholars, policy analysts, and advocates stay on top of the latest research and innovations in aging care, including health care, social services, and workforce issues.
The Evidence Database is regularly updated by a professional staff of contributors that filters, reviews, and catalogues articles published in professional journals both in the U.S. and abroad. An advisory committee of experts in gerontology, social work research, and database methods provides consultation and assistance in the selection of topics for inclusion in the database. To view this database, visit: http://socialworkleadership.org/nsw/cap/search.php