Saturday, March 2, 2024

Case Western Reserve Hosts Law-Med Conference on Diminished Capacity and the Law

Law and Bioethics Professor Sharona Hoffman, Co-Director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University organized a terrific symposium on Cognitive Decline and the Law, held on March 1, 2024.  Thank you, Sharona, for inviting me to participate!   In my talk, I  suggested that the time has come for clearer thinking on a long-standing legal standard, known in many jurisdictions as the "Lucid Moment" or the "Lucid Interval Doctrine," that has permitted attorneys' testimony on clients' orientation in time, place and person to suffice as evidence of sufficient capacity in legal transactions, even in the face of expert medical testimony about Alzheimer's Disease or other advanced dementias.  My additional thanks to Penn State Dickinson Law student and research assistant extraordinaire, Noah Yeagley, for joining us at the conference and who was especially enjoying this opportunity to revisit his pre-law school graduate work in neuroscience. IMG_0764

The day began with a keynote presentation by Dr. Carol Barnes, University of Arizona, addressing "Brain Mechanisms Responsible for Cognitive Decline in Aging."  One key takeaway for me from her presentation was that while physical exercise is important for overall health, "learning new things" is probably even more important in maintaining cognitive function over time.  

The first set of panelists dug deeply into the roles of people supporting others in decision-making, whether with the aid of formal "supported decision-making agreements," or use of powers of attorney or different forms of substituted judgment.  Rebekah Diller, Clinical Professor at Cardozo Law, Megan Wright, Professor of Law and Medicine at Penn State Law, and James Toomey, Assistant Professor of Law at Pace University were the presenters on cutting-edge issues.

In the second panel, Neurology Professor Mark Fisher from the University of California Irvine was very timely in his focus on the potential for cognitive decline in both voters and candidates in politics, discussing a wide range of possible examples across history in the U.S. and Israel.  Associate Professor Jalayne Arias from Georgia State University School of Public Health demonstrated significant concerns in the overlap between criminality and dementia, whether from the standpoint of arrest, conviction, incarceration or release of persons with cognitive declines.

Sharona Hoffman did double duty during the packed day, presenting issues of cognitive declines both in the workplace and on our roads.   She used humor to soften some of the tough news on the lack accountability for risk in either domain.  It was clear from the audience response -- in both the sold-out auditorium and on-line -- that everyone has a story about dementia and drivers, often from our own families!

My long-time friend working specifically in the "elder law" space, Nina Kohn, Professor of Law at Syracuse and now also a Distinguished Scholar in Elder Law at Yale Law School, gave the latest on proposed -- and much needed -- reforms in court-appointed guardianships, highlighting key concerns addressed in the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act,  adopted as of today in two states, Maine and Washington, and introduced or pending in at least four more states.

The speakers in the important last panel of the day were clearly looking to the future on research and developments in the diagnosis, care and community response needed for "healthier" approaches to problem-solving.  Dr. Jonathan Haines, a genetic epidemiologist at Case Western Reserve University, surveyed the advances and challenges in attempting to build a deep bank of genetic information on Alzheimer's Disease. Law Professor Emily Murphy at UC Law San Francisco outlined the emerging theory of "collective cognitive capacity" as an approach to to the challenges posed by social, environmental, and economic factors that may be impacted by brain health and cognitive decline.  Tara Sklar, the Director of the Health Law and Policy Program for the University of Arizona College of Law spoke on the potentials and challenges for telemedicine in treating patients with cognitive declines. Professor Sklar is also the new chair of the AALS Section on Aging and the Law.  

A packed day, for sure, with support from Virginia Lefever, Editor for CWLR's journal of law and medicine, Health Matrix, who was receiving formal drafts of papers 
from presenters for a future issue. Public Art on Campus at Case Western Reserve March 2024

And for those of us who were determined to follow Dr. Barnes' encouragement to "keep learning," the evening did not end early, as we continued with a tour of the University's wonderful public art spaces and then on to the world-renowned art collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art -- including a "First Friday" party that had lots of people dressed up and dancing!  Hands-Down, it was a great conference!

March 2, 2024 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, State Cases, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Penn State Dickinson Law Supports the Search For Equity in Aging


On February 16, 2024, my law school, Penn State Dickinson Law, hosted its monthly session on Race and Equal Protection of the Law (REPL) and this time our focus was on the search for equity in aging. Penn State Dickinson Law Students February 2024

One of the first speakers was Sahar Takshi, whose work at Justice in Aging focuses on implementing the organization's strategic initiatives on advancing equity.   The initiative centers advocacy on issues that directly address systemic inequities faced by:

  • Older adults of color,
  • Older women,
  • LGBTQ+ older adults,
  • Older adults with disabilities, and
  • Older adults who are immigrants or who have limited English proficiency.

Sahar offered definitions of core terms, including cultural competence and cultural humility, implicit bias, and a concept that I'm hearing more and more about, "vicarious trauma." I had thought of this as an emerging concern for health and human services providers, who may be repeatedly exposed to clients' and patients' traumas, with the potential for unacknowledged negative impacts on their ability as "helpers" to cope, or to be able to provide consistent levels of service.  Sahar reminded us that lawyers may be affected in this way,  and perhaps may even be subject to greater self denial.  (P.S. I learned our law school is offering a course on this topic in the Fall of 2024!). 

Justice in Aging also has teamed with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) on a funded out-reach initiative to older adults in the Philadelphia region.  Part of the project focused on how the concept of racial justice needs to consider the importance of Medicaid as the largest public payer for long-term services and supports.  One challenge is that receiving Medicaid may hit low income families in disproportionate ways, as the state's "recovery program" may target their only asset -- their home.  Presenter Pam Walz,  a supervising attorney at CLS in the Health and Independence unit, explained the needs for families of color to be able to access sound legal advice in order to avoid unfair Medicaid Estate Recovery impacts.  

One of the rising stars at the REPL program was Olivia Robbins who is a paralegal in the Homeownership and Consumer Rights Unit at CLS in Philadelphia.  Olivia provided a fascinating, detailed history of concerns about "tangled titles" and how there is a huge need for appropriate estate planning support to avoid this phenomenon.  My 1L students were definitely asking for more information on this concern.

New Jersey Elder Law specialist Crystal Edwards, CELA, helped to introduce the day's program for Penn State Dickinson Law, adding her words of support for stronger outreach to clients of color and the importance of attorneys of color for planning services.  Crystal reminds us that "help" for older adults and their families comes from private attorneys too; indeed, Friday's program was a holistic overview of public, private, local and national networks for equity in aging, highlighting  the significance of race, gender, immigration status, and orientation when bias factors include "growing older." 

I provided an example from recent news stories about the intersection of "bias" impacting quality of care for  older people who are also persons of color.  The publication Nature recently published a comprehensive review of how "fingertip oxygen sensors," that are a tool for catching "low" oxygen levels for people in nursing homes and which were especially during the height of the COVID pandemic, can fail to give accurate readings on dark skin. As the article reports, "Studies --some decades old -- have established that the devices . . . can overestimate the amount of oxygen in the blood of people with dark skin which could lead health professionals to delay or decide against treatment."  Penn State Dickinson Law Professor Sarah Gerke commented on the troubling history in the Nature publication.  

Visiting Professor Allison Lintal presented our students with important information to close the REPL session about restrictive housing laws or policies at a state or local level that fail to support co-housing, a potentially vital need for older people who can benefit from companionship and a team approach to financial support or care.   

My deep appreciation to all of the speakers at our program, helping to introduce our first-year law students to the "search for equity in aging." 

February 20, 2024 in Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 22, 2023

Arizona Feature: "Arizona Seniors At Risk of Harm"

Appearing on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Arizona Republic (5.21.23),  the first paragraphs of an extended feature article point to the potential for harm to residents and the consequences of staff shortages or inattention at Arizona facilicities caring for residents with dementia. Two women in their 90s  are residents of an elegantly appointed assisted living facility-- but as the article begins they are covered in blood -- and the investigation of what happened there is hampered by the inability of anyone to give clear explanations. 

The feature, based on the newspaper's review of "thousands of pages of police and state regulatory reports," offers multiple reasons for such injuries in "senior living" facilities, including a lack of clear reporting rules and the absence of investigation by state agencies, especially for facilities licsenced for "assisted living" as opposed to "nursing home" care.  From the  feature:

In memory care units, anything can become a weapon -- toilet plungers, shoehorns, electric razors, TV remotes, metal trash grabbers and walking canes. Hundreds of vulnerable seniors, particularly those with dementia, contend with violence at the end of their lives in the very places that promise to keep them safe. 

 

Shortages of staff-- brought on by companies looking to maximize profits or stave off financial losses -- lead to more harm. Assisted living facilities can keep resident clashes underwraps [in Arizona] because regulartors don't make facilities report incidents to their state licensing agency.  Federally regulated nursing homes have to report but little attention is paid to the problem.

 

The Arizona Republic combed through thousands of pages of policce and state regulatory reports to find more than 200 clashes at senior living facilities from mid-2019 to mid-2022. Residents punched, hit, pushed, kicked, poked scratched, bit, elbowed or spat on other residents or employees.

Experts consulted by the Arizona Republic noted that one "key [to reducing problems] is tailoring a [resident's] care plan to each resident's needs, equipped with activities that bring their lives a sense of purpose."  Further, "[a]ssisted living facilities commonly get in trouble for having inadequate, delayed or out-of-date plans for residents that outline their need or for failing to follow those plans."

The article cautions that if a problem is not tracked, "it doesn't exist":

The Arizona Department of Health Services licenses facilities and is responsible for investigating complaints but assisted living centers don't have to report nonfatal injuries to the agency.  

 

That's not normal.  Most states require facilities to report to their licensing agency when residents get hurt, according to The Republic's review of state laws.

The feature suggests that "Arizona lawmakers and regulators have prioritized the needs of assisted living and nursing home companies over their residents," comparizing Arizona to  "[a]t least 17 states [that] require assisted living facilities to get inspected about once a year, with a few even requiring two inspections per year. " 

For the full Arizona Republic feature published in its print version on May 21, 2023, look for  "Arizona seniors at risk of harm: Facilities experiencing staff shortage, residents with dementia enable violence," by reporters Caitlin McGlade, Melina Walling and Sahana Jayaraman. The extended Sunday feature appears to follow several shorter articles available online in May from the same reporting team. 

May 22, 2023 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 8, 2023

Ohio Appellate Court Confirms that Agent Not "Personally Liable" for Costs of Nursing Home Care

In one of the earliest articles I wrote on familiy member liability under nursing home contracts, I cautioned that federal law prohibits nursing homes from requiring "guarantees" of payment by family members.  Any family member who is asked to sign "on behalf" of a loved one should carefully consider the role he or she is undertaking, especially if the only role acceptable  and affordable for that family member is "agent."  See "The Responsible Thing to Do About 'Responsible Party' Provisions in Nursing Home Agreements," published in 2004 in the Unversity of Michigan Journal of Law Reform.   

On May 1, 2023, an appellate court in Ohio cited this article when concluding that in the case before it, the daughter's role as agent acting under a power of attorney prevented her from becoming personally liable for her mother's costs of care.  The daughter appears to have properly cooperated or assisted in the original Medicaid application.  Further, the daughter gave authority to the nursing home to debit the bank account where her mother's SS checks were deposited each month, in order to pay itself the "patient pay portion" of the monthly allocation for costs of care when a patient has low income but is otherwise eligible for Medicaid.  Thus the nursing home appears to have had at least the same ability as the daughter to avoid accumulation of a sum greater than $2,000, a resource limit that can trigger disruption of  Medicaid benefits.  There was still another party that could be faulted for what appears to have been an unplanned "excess resource" situation.  The court pointed to the failure of the state agency to give effective notice to interested parties about when and why it was terminaating Medicaid.   See National Church Residences First Community Village v. Kessler, 2023 WL 3162188  (Ohio Ct. App. 2023).  

Bottom line?  Family members or others attempting to help an incapacitated person get proper care are well-advised to consult with an experienced elder law attorney early in the process about how to qualify and protect eligability for Medicaid.  Further, clear, direct communications between the agent, the facility and state agencies are important when seeking to facilitate prompt, proper payments.  

Overwhelmed family members should not be scapegoats, even (especially?) when overwhelmed state agencies and facility billing offices are themselves missing opportunities to keep benefit payments flowing properly.  

May 8, 2023 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 10, 2023

Undocumented Workers in the Caregiving World

Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Lopez has been writing recently on the financial costs of long-term care, whether in the home or a "senior living" setting.  It is part of his series of  "Golden State" columns on California's aging population.   Today, however, he has reversed the lens, and talks about the impact of the need for care on low-wage workers.  He writes: 

I’ve been in homes where the caregivers are U.S. citizens with decent wages and benefits, and I’ve been in homes where the workers are undocumented and paid less than the minimum wage  ($16.04  an hour in the city of Los Angeles)  in cash. It’s a wink-and-nod system, much like farm labor, in which cheap labor is prized over any other consideration.

 

“It’s very much a legacy of slavery and a history in this country of not valuing the work done by … people of color,” said attorney Yvonne Medrano, who heads the employee rights program at Bet Tzedek Legal Services.

 

Several weeks ago I reached out to the the Pilipino Workers Center, a Los Angeles nonprofit that has been educating domestic workers on their rights and leading a fight against a system in which labor laws are often ignored and workers — many of them old enough to be receiving elder care themselves — are cheated and exploited.

Aquilina Soriano Versoza, the center’s director, said research indicates a majority of clients appreciate the care they get and would be willing to pay more for it, but many can’t afford to.

For  a more complete picture, read They Take Care of Aging Adults, Live in Cramped Quarters, and Make Less than MInimum Wage from the Los Angeles Times.

April 10, 2023 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Medicare and Social Security Projections-Not Unexpected?

The news from the Congressional Budget Office underscores the reality that the SSA and Medicare Trustees have been pointing out for a while now.  According to an article yesterday in The Hill, CBO warns of sharp uptick in Social Security, Medicare spending,

Federal spending on Social Security and Medicare is projected to rise dramatically over the next decade, far outpacing revenues and the economy on the whole while putting new pressure on Congress to address accelerated threats of insolvency, according to new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). 

The increase is driven by a variety of factors, including Social Security’s new cost-of-living adjustment, the rising cost of medical services under Medicare and greater participation rates in both programs, as the last of the baby boomers become eligible for retirement benefits. 

Further, in Social Security set to run short of funds one year earlier than expected the director of the CBO explains

Social Security funds are set to start running a shortfall in 2032, one year earlier than previously expected, the director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said on Tuesday.

“The Social Security solvency date — the exhaustion date for the trust fund — is now within the budget window,” CBO Director Phillip Swagel said, referring to the 10-year period covered by the agency’s annual report.

If the Social Security funds become insolvent and there is no change to current laws, beneficiaries would see a more than 20 percent reduction in their benefits, Swagel added. 

This is the CBO’s second update to the Social Security insolvency date in the last two months, after it adjusted its projection down to 2033 in mid-December.

And finally, in Axios today, Medicare politics are on a crash course with reality

By the numbers: Medicare spending is expected to more than double by 2033 — climbing to $1.6 trillion, or over 4% of the entire U.S. economy, according to an estimate released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office.

[T]he program's trustees have said the fund that pays for Medicare's hospital coverage will soon reach a dangerous tipping point — paying out more than it takes in. On that trajectory, it eventually wouldn't be able to pay for the coverage it's supposed to provide.

Want to read the full CBO report? It's here.  

Misquoting Bette Davis, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

February 16, 2023 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Loss of the Ability to Evaluate Risk vs "Winning the Sweepstakes"

When I was a child, my grandfather had an ongoing relationship with Readers' Digest.  Not just their magazine or their condensed books, but with the company itself. He was always convinced he had won their latest sweepstakes and his big-dollar prize was just around the corner.  It was a bit of a family legend.  

Recently an older friend, who had celebrated a 90th birthday a few months back, called to ask for help in filling out forms for the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.  Over the years my friend had purchased various items from PCH, including a set of solar lights that never worked properly.   The odds of actually "winning" the PCH sweepstakes are astronomically high.  My friend thought buying something would increase the odds of winning no matter how often I explained over the years that was not true.  Sometimes new "stuff" would appear in the mail, along with a corresponding bill for the "order."  It was hard to know whether my friend had actually ordered the items.

This time, my friend was thrilled to explain the long-awaited victory was almost here -- as the latest mailing "guaranteed" the check would be arriving by mail and all that was needed was timely confirmation by return mail of a willingness to accept the prize.  Two envelopes were provided to help in "claiming" the victory.  

I walked patiently through the colorful documents with my friend, pointing out all my examples of clever language.   I showed my friend a copy of a case, Harris v.  Publishers Clearing House, an unofficially reported  federal decision from 2016, that described another person who also thought he had won for the exact same reasons as my friend. The prize never came. He was suing -- without the benefit of an attorney --  for breach of contract, fraud, and alleged violations of Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, 39 U.S.C. Section 2001 et seq.  But the judge ruled against him, dismissing the case with prejudice while explaining the language in the letters "merely informed the plaintiff that he had a chance to win. . . . "  

My friend seemed to understand what I was saying.  My friend asked my opinion -- "what should we do?"  I suggested we tear up the letters and throw them in the trash.  My friend put the documents -- untorn -- in the waste can.  We talked about the fact that continuing to participate with this company was wasting money, and was also an example of "feeding the troll," encouraging the company to keep sending those "too-good-to-be-true" letters to other people.   We  ended our discussion with a good hug.

The next morning I stopped by to drop off newspapers and a fresh donut.  As I waited for my friend, I saw the top of two "official" envelopes addressed to Publishers Clearing House peeking out of the top of the home's mail box for pick up -- with fresh stamps.   I couldn't help but sigh.  

Here is a link to a science-based discussion about early assessment of cognitive impairment, and the importance of histories provided by a reliable informant or care partner for diagnostic assessment.  Victimization in scams is one of several behavioral examples listed in the article that can point to changes in cognition, associated with the loss of the ability to evaluate risk or odds of winning. 

Isn't it sad that it might be easier to diagnose cognitive impairment than to get a ruling finding deceptive trade practices?  

November 6, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Justice Department Expands Strike Force to Protect Older Americans from Fraud

The U.S. Justice Department issued a press release yesterday, announcing the expansion of its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force.  The Strike Force was organized in 2019, involving the Justice Department's Consumer Protection Bureau,  U.S. Attorneys Offices, the FBI, Homeland Security, and -- I was interested to see -- the United States Postal Inspection Service

I've actually worked with the Postal Inspector on an elder fraud case.   A woman in her 90s was mailing an unusually fat envelope and asked a friend to give her a ride to a local branch of the post office.  The friend, knowing the woman was quite frail when walking unassisted, offered to get the postage, or to accompany her, but the older woman, who the friend thought seemed unsure of herself, declined.  The friend thought about this, was alerted by what struck her as unusual behavior, and called the woman's daughter and explained what had just  happened. 

The daughter had dismissed a home caregiver recently after learning the caregiver was asking her mother for -- and receiving --  two  or more "pay checks" per week, as well as asking for additional cash that seemed to disappear in mysterious ways.  The daughter went to the post office with a copy of a certified Power of Attorney, granted to her by her mother several years before she was diagnosed with multiple conditions, including cognitive issues, following a stroke.  In fact the reason the caregiver had been hired was precisely because the mother was vulnerable and sometimes confused. 

The Post Office at first seemed to be reluctant to take action, but the daughter was able to describe the envelope and also to provide the name of the former employee who had already been fully paid for his work, and had signed a receipt to that effect. The Post Office's worker agreed to search, but when the daughter departed, it seemed unlikely any action would be taken.  That is, it seemed unlikely until the next day, when a representative of the Postal Inspector set up an appointment.  Having identified and been given the daughter/agent's permission to open the envelope, the federal authorities found several hundred dollars in the envelope that was, indeed, addressed to the former worker.  The officers interviewed the mother and then went to see the suspect, who claimed it was merely an additional paycheck that was "owed."  He  claimed the mother was fully supportive of giving him cash, but he was unable to explain the receipt he'd signed, the burner phones he had used to call the woman, nor the many "payments" he'd received in the last 60 days, payments that the daughter had since documented as more than tripling his agreed wage rate during that period. 

I'm the daughter; my 90+ mother was the person defrauded.  (She has since passed away, so I feel more able to tell this story.)  I learned the Postal Service already understood such a fact pattern very well.  Even at that time, several years ago, the official investigating the facts told us that similar transactions happened all too often.  It is good to see, with this latest press release, that the U.S. Justice Department is coordinating authorities on enhanced fraud prevention and recovery efforts in support of elder justice.  

My thanks to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Amy Gaudion at Penn State Dickinson Law, who shared the Justice Department notice with me, and whose own research focuses on national security and privacy issues.  

October 5, 2022 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Some Critical Access Hospitals Overpaid by Medicare?

And another report from the HHS Office of Inspector General,  Medicare Part B Overpaid and Beneficiaries Incurred Cost-Share Overcharges of Over $1 Million for the Same Professional Services.  Here is their findings:

Not all Medicare Part B payments made to CAHs for professional services and payments made to health care practitioners complied with Federal requirements. For the 40,026 claims we audited, CAHs and health care practitioners each submitted an equal number of claims. However, for each date of service, only one of the claims complied with Federal requirements. As a result, Medicare administrative contractors (MACs) paid providers $907,438 more than they should have been paid, and beneficiaries were held responsible for $281,321 more than they should have been.

These overpayments occurred because CMS did not have claim system edits to prevent and detect duplicate professional services claims for the same date of service, beneficiary, and procedure.

The full report with comments and recommendations is available here.

September 22, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Certain SNF non-compliance on infection control and more?

The Office of the Inspector General for HHS has released a report,  Certain Life Care Nursing Homes May Not Have Complied With Federal Requirements for Infection Prevention and Control and Emergency Preparedness.

Here is a summary of their findings

Selected Life Care nursing homes may not have complied with Federal requirements for infection prevention and control and emergency preparedness. Specifically, 23 of the 24 nursing homes selected had possible deficiencies. Actual deficiencies can only be determined following a thorough investigation by trained surveyors. At 22 nursing homes, we found 35 instances of possible noncompliance with infection prevention and control requirements related to annual reviews of the Infection Prevention and Control Program, training, designation of a qualified infection preventionist, and Quality Assessment and Assurance Committee meetings. We also found at 16 nursing homes 20 instances of possible noncompliance with emergency preparedness requirements related to the annual review of emergency preparedness plans and annual emergency preparedness risk assessments. Life Care officials attributed the possible noncompliance to: (1) leadership turnover, (2) staff turnover, (3) documentation issues (i.e., information was not documented or documentation was either lost or misplaced), (4) staff members who were unfamiliar with requirements (i.e., requirements stipulating that there is no grace period for infection preventionists to complete specialized training and that emergency preparedness plans needed to be reviewed annually), (5) qualified personnel shortage, and (6) challenges related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. We also believe that many of the conditions noted in our report occurred because CMS did not provide nursing homes with communication and training related to complying with the new, phase 3 infection control requirements, or clarification about the essential components to be integrated in the nursing homes’ emergency plans. 

The full report with recommendations is available here.

September 22, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Practice Tip for Older Student Loan Debtors

The National Center on  Law & Elder Rights has released a new practice tip, Cancellation of Debt & Other Changes to the Federal Student Loan System that Impact Older Borrowers.

Student loan debt is one of the biggest contributors to the rise in the amount of debt held by older adults. According to AARP, in 2020 8.4 million borrowers age 50 and older held 22% of the total federal student debt load, amounting to $336.1 billion. The average amount of student loan debt carried by families headed by adults 50 or older was $36,421 in 2019. This includes older borrowers who took out loans for their own education or to pay for a family member’s education. Default on student loans can result in aggressive collection actions, including the garnishment of wages and Social Security benefits, and an accumulation of fees and interest. Older adults consistently report difficulty managing their student loan debt while trying to stay on track to save for retirement or pay for other necessary expenses on reduced retirement incomes. This results in financial instability, especially for low-income older adults and those on f ixed-incomes.

The practice tip includes discussion of the moratorium on student loan collections, debt cancellation, public service loan foregiveness, changes under discussion for income-based repayment plans, and links to helpful resources. 

September 21, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Myriad Benefits Available to Older Persons

Kaiser Health News published a recent article that focused on the various programs and benefits for older persons that they may not know about.  While Inflation Takes a Toll on Seniors, Billions of Dollars in Benefits Go Unused offers these examples to make the point:

A few examples: Nearly 14 million adults age 60 or older qualify for aid from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) but haven’t signed up, according to recent estimates. Also, more than 3 million adults 65 or older are eligible but not enrolled in Medicare Savings Programs, which pay for Medicare premiums and cost sharing. And 30% to 45% of seniors may be missing out on help from the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy program, which covers plan premiums and cost sharing and lowers the cost of prescription drugs.

And yes, the article acknowledges that for many programs, eligibility is based on a means test, while for others, it's just a priority.  The article offers tips to find out if an older person is eligible for any of these programs, starting with the local Area Agency on Aging.

September 13, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2022

Saving an Arm & a Leg on Drug Costs

Kaiser Health News released a podcast yesterday about the new law for CMS to negotiate drug prices under Medicare. ‘An Arm and a Leg’: The New Cap on Medicare Drug Costs explains "[t]he U.S. Senate was voting on the Inflation Reduction Act, which among other things is designed to ensure that people on Medicare pay less for expensive drugs....It’s a big deal. Lots of seniors pay $10,000 a year or more for drugs or do without lifesaving treatment; once the new law kicks in, it sets an out-of-pocket limit of $2,000 a year. "

The link to the 26 minute podcast is available here.  A transcript of the podcast is available here.

September 12, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and CMS Jointly Caution Nursing Homes and Their Debt Collectors on Their Practices

Today, my Conflict of Laws class and I watched a live-streamed hearing involving "choice of law": "state" (about contracts) versus "federal law" (prohibiting practices affecting contracts)  The context is a bit dramatic and definitely overdue for action. Dickinson Law Class Observes Federal Hearing on Propriety of Nursing Home Debt Collection Practices

On the same day as the public hearing, which was hosted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for panelists to identify concerns about certain debt collection practices used by nursing homes against the family members and others, CFPB and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a "notification letter."  The letter, dated September 8, 2022 and addressed to "Nursing Facilities and Debt Collectors," details improper practices under federal law, such as asking "third parties" to sign documents that, in effect, serve as  personal guarantees of payment of nursing homes.  Without those guarantees, the nursing home may deny admission or continued care.  However, the third parties are often family members or even mere "friends," who may be trying to help get care, but who have little knowledge of the resident's personal finances or eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid, and who may not understand the risks of "agreeing" to sign the contracts.  

I began writing about this problem years ago in a series of articles.  In "The Responsible Thing to Do About Responsible Party Provisions in Nursing Home Agreements," I focused on misleading attempts to have someone agree to be a "responsible party" for purposes of the resident being admitted, without the signer's full understanding that the signature may be construed by state courts as a promise to pay if the resident cannot pay personally or does not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid payments.  See also "Traps for the Unwary in Nursing Home Agreements."

Recent studies conducted under the auspices of Kaiser Family Foundation (at KHN) provide additional examples of the hardships on families and friends. Unfortunately, the problems with attempts to hold third-parties liable for costs of nursing home care have become more intense with Covid-19 crises affecting long-term care.  Indeed, one of the pandemic-influenced contracting practices that adds to the problem is use of "on-line signing processes" for these contracts.  As family members were often not even present during the admission's process, nursing homes are increasingly turning to e-signatures. The swift moving electronic process for initials and virtual signatures all too easily flies by without any true reading, much less understanding, of the documents and with close to zero likelihood the signers will be able to ask questions (such as "Do I have to sign this?" or "What happens if I don't sign this?") and gain accurate answers.  Nursing homes deserve to be paid for their care -- but the right way to do this is to involve people who can help the families apply for benefits under Medicare or Medicaid, and who won't insist on private pay if the resident's resources are too low to support such pay.   

In my experience, thoughtfully-managed, well-run nursing homes definitely exist.  They get sound business and legal advice and know that is more cost effective to help families through the process than sue them when the documents are not understood.  Experienced elder law attorneys, including specialists in Legal Services offices, can help too.  But while reading the KHN report linked above, too often I was seeing "default judgments" involved here -- and in those instances, that usually means a lack of informed agreement on the part of signers or that the admission processes are otherwise not working properly.   

September 8, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Planning for Your Special Needs Child and Retirement

The New York Times ran this article last week. Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Onceexplains "[f]or parents of children who have serious disabilities or special needs, the challenges of growing and preserving their wealth are magnified exponentially, and the stakes are much higher. While they are trying to plan for their own retirements, these parents need to simultaneously secure the ‌ stability of a son or daughter who will be dependent on them‌ until — and even  after — their deaths." The article does a good job of framing and discussing the issues and options and provides good examples.

September 1, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

CFPB Hearing On Nursing Home Debt Collection Practices

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has announced a Save the Date: CFPB Field Hearing with Director Chopra on Nursing Home Debt Collection Practices

On September 8, 2022, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Rohit Chopra will host a virtual discussion with advocates, service providers, community leaders, and members of the public to explore challenges around nursing home debt collection practices and the impact they can have on the financial wellbeing of caregivers, their families, and friends. We are looking forward to your participation, so please be sure to save the date.

To register, click here

August 31, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

When Private Equity Owns Nursing Homes

Last week the New Yorker newsletter ran this article, When Private Equity Takes Over a Nursing Home. Focusing on the sale of one nursing home, the article discusses the facility before the sale and after.

Nearly a quarter of the hundred-person staff had been with the home for more than fifteen years; the activities director was in her forty-fifth year. But the ownership change precipitated a mass exodus. Within two weeks, management laid out plans to significantly cut back nurse staffing. Some mornings, there were only two nursing aides working at the seventy-two-bed facility. A nurse at the home, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told me, “It takes two people just to take some residents to the bathroom.” ,

Consider the prevalence of private equity's ownership of nursing homes. According to the article, "Since the turn of the century, private-equity investment in nursing homes has grown from five billion to a hundred billion dollars. The purpose of such investments—their so-called value proposition—is to increase efficiency. Management and administrative services can be centralized, and excess costs and staffing trimmed."  Further, "Private-equity firms currently own only eleven per cent of facilities, as a federal report found. But about seventy per cent of the industry is now run for profit."

This is an important article. 

August 30, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Air Travel When Using A Wheelchair

Did you see this article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago?  Embarrassing, Uncomfortable and Risky: What Flying is Like for Passengers Who Use Wheelchairs is compelling and enlightening and makes the reader wonder if there isn't room for a lot of improvements from airlines and airports for these passengers.  If you haven't read it, you really must.  There is an audio version of the article also available at the same website, but the accompanying photos are also quite compelling. Follow the passenger in the story on his journey from arrival at the airport to arrival at his destination. 

August 23, 2022 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Hearing Loss, Cataracts, and Dementia

There seem to be a lot of articles in the media currently discussing the statistical relationship between hearing loss and dementia.  Of course, we need to remember the axiom that "correlation does not necessarily mean causation."  Still, recent studies and informed observations are intriguing.  For example one study underway is looking at whether treating hearing loss can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.  

Johns Hopkins is leading a large National Institute on Aging study to see if hearing aids can safeguard seniors’ mental processes. The study has multiple locations and has recruited nearly 1,000 people ages 70–84 with hearing loss. One group is provided hearing aids, while another group receives aging education. By early 2023, the study should provide definitive results on whether treating hearing loss will reduce the risk of cognitive decline. In essence, we’ll know whether the use of hearing aids can potentially reduce brain aging and the risk of dementia.

Some of this research is going beyond examining the potential for common causes for the two processes (such as poor diet and inadequate exercise, as well as uncontrolled blood pressure or weight).  Researchers are asking whether a failure to hear clearly can actually damage the brain's function.  NPR's Sunday Edition (8.21.2022) includes  a five minute interview with Dr. Frank Lin, at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who addresses three "major brain mechanisms" that may be affected by untreated hearing impairments: (1) the potential impact of the load on a brain from having to work harder; (2) the potential for hearing loss to actually affect the integrity of the brain's structure  because of atrophy of an essential function, and (3) the potential for loss of hearing to contribute to social isolation, further reducing engagement that keeps people (and their brains) interacting with the world around them. 

Dr. Lin is also pleased about the FDA finally opening access for Americans to purchase over-the-counter hearing aids, a change he's worked on and supported for some eight years.  He points out that currently only some 15 to 20% of Americans who could benefit from hearing assistance are getting the help they need, probably because of high costs and reluctance to see doctors. Dr. Lin says that any theoretical risks from over-the-counter sales (such as over- or under-amplification) is significantly outweighed by the benefits. 

Oh, and while I'm at this, the research suggesting that older people who have cataracts removed may be "nearly 30% less likely to develop dementia" is also interesting.

August 21, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hearing Loss, Cataracts, and Dementia

There seem to be a lot of articles in the media currently discussing the statistical relationship between hearing loss and dementia.  Of course, we need to remember the axiom that "correlation does not necessarily mean causation."  Still, recent studies and informed observations are intriguing.  For example one study underway is looking at whether treating hearing loss can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.  

Johns Hopkins is leading a large National Institute on Aging study to see if hearing aids can safeguard seniors’ mental processes. The study has multiple locations and has recruited nearly 1,000 people ages 70–84 with hearing loss. One group is provided hearing aids, while another group receives aging education. By early 2023, the study should provide definitive results on whether treating hearing loss will reduce the risk of cognitive decline. In essence, we’ll know whether the use of hearing aids can potentially reduce brain aging and the risk of dementia.

Some of this research is going beyond examining the potential for common causes for the two processes (such as poor diet and inadequate exercise, as well as uncontrolled blood pressure or weight).  Researchers are asking whether a failure to hear clearly can actually damage the brain's function.  NPR's Sunday Edition (8.21.2022) includes  a five minute interview with Dr. Frank Lin, at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who addresses three "major brain mechanisms" that may be affected by untreated hearing impairments: (1) the potential impact of the load on a brain from having to work harder; (2) the potential for hearing loss to actually affect the integrity of the brain's structure  because of atrophy of an essential function, and (3) the potential for loss of hearing to contribute to social isolation, further reducing engagement that keeps people (and their brains) interacting with the world around them. 

Dr. Lin is also pleased about the FDA finally opening access for Americans to purchase over-the-counter hearing aids, a change he's worked on and supported for some eight years.  He points out that currently only some 15 to 20% of Americans who could benefit from hearing assistance are getting the help they need, probably because of high costs and reluctance to see doctors. Dr. Lin says that any theoretical risks from over-the-counter sales (such as over- or under-amplification) is significantly outweighed by the benefits. 

Oh, and while I'm at this, the research suggesting that older people who have cataracts removed may be "nearly 30% less likely to develop dementia" is also interesting.

August 21, 2022 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)