Monday, July 15, 2019

Low SNF Staffing Numbers

According to a recent story published in Modern Healthcare,  Nursing home staffing levels often fall below CMS expectationsfocuses on a new study that "[n]ursing home staffing levels are often lower than what facilities report, which could compromise care quality, new research shows....Self-reported direct staffing time per resident was higher than the CMS' payroll-based metrics 70% of the time, according to a new study published in Health Affairs. Staffing levels were significantly lower during the weekends, particularly for registered nurses."

We know the importance of staffing as a quality measure and ensuring quality of care, so this study is very important. "Researchers compared facility-reported staffing and resident census data and annual inspection survey dates from the Certification and Survey Provider Enhanced Reports to the CMS' long-term care facility Staffing Payroll-Based Journal from 2017 to 2018. The payroll-based data offered a more granular look, showing how staffing evolves over time rather than relying on static point-in-time estimates that were subject to reporting bias and rarely audited...."

When comparing for-profit SNFs with NFP SNFS, the researchers found the for-profits "more likely to report higher staffing numbers ... and [s]taffing levels increased before and during the times of the annual surveys and dropped off after." 

The use of payroll data to determine staffing levels has only been in effect a little over a year.  The story focuses specifically just on staffing levels. A log-in is required to access the study.

July 15, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Poor Care in Hospice: OIG Report

Ugh, this article in the Washington Post covers a serious and worrisome topic. Hospices go unpunished for reported maggots and uncontrolled pain, watchdog finds reports on a recently released HHS Office of Inspector General report,  2019: Vulnerabilities in Hospice Care.

The OIG report is actually two reports "which found that from 2012 through 2016, the majority of U.S. hospices that participated in Medicare had one or more deficiencies in the quality of care they provided to their patients. Some Medicare beneficiaries were seriously harmed when hospices provided poor care or failed to take action in cases of abuse. OIG made several recommendations in both reports to strengthen safeguards to protect Medicare hospice beneficiaries from harm and to ensure hospices are held accountable for deficiencies in their programs."

The first report, Hospice Deficiencies Pose Risks to Medicare Beneficiaries, 07-03-2019 | Report (OEI-02-17-00020), found that

[t]he most common types of deficiencies involve poor care planning, mismanagement of aide services, and inadequate assessments of beneficiaries. In addition to these, hospices had other deficiencies that also posed risks to beneficiaries. These failings-such as improperly vetting staff and inadequate quality control-can jeopardize beneficiaries' safety and lead to poor care. In addition, one-third of all hospices that provided care to Medicare beneficiaries had complaints filed against them. Over 300 hospices had at least one serious deficiency or at least one substantiated severe complaint in 2016, which we considered to be poor performers. These hospices represent 18 percent of all hospices surveyed nation-wide in 2016. Most poor performers had other deficiencies or substantiated complaints in the 5-year period. Some poor performers had a history of serious deficiencies.

The full report is available here.

The second report, Safeguards Must Be Strengthened To Protect Medicare Hospice Beneficiaries From Harm, 07-03-2019 | Report (OEI-02-17-00021) found

[s]ome instances of harm resulted from hospices providing poor care to beneficiaries and some resulted from abuse by caregivers or others and the hospice failing to take action. These cases reveal vulnerabilities in CMS's efforts to prevent and address harm. These vulnerabilities include insufficient reporting requirements for hospices, limited reporting requirements for surveyors, and barriers that beneficiaries and caregivers face in making complaints. Also, these hospices did not face serious consequences for the harm described in this report. Specifically, surveyors did not always cite immediate jeopardy in cases of significant beneficiary harm and hospices' plans of correction are not designed to address underlying issues. In addition, CMS cannot impose penalties, other than termination, to hold hospices accountable for harming beneficiaries.

The second full report is available here. In addition there is a slide show available on YouTube,  a one page flyer available here, a one-page graphic of the top issues available here, a flyer on beneficiary rights available here and more.

July 10, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

DNA Scams Targeting Elders

Last week Bloomberg Law ran a story about a new scam. Scammers Target Seniors With DNA Tests, Health Agency Says explains that the "free DNA test" is being sent to elders. "Companies offering the tests use the information gathered to steal identities or bill Medicare for unnecessary tests, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General said in an agency fraud alert. The fraudsters are targeting victims through telemarketing, booths at public events and door-to-door visits." The fraud alert from HHS'Inspector General, Fraud Alert: Genetic Testing Scam offers these suggestions for elders:

  • If a genetic testing kit is mailed to you, don't accept it unless it was ordered by your physician. Refuse the delivery or return it to the sender. Keep a record of the sender's name and the date you returned the items.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who offers you free genetic testing and then requests your Medicare number. If your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes.
  • A physician that you know and trust should approve any requests for genetic testing.
  • Medicare beneficiaries should be cautious of unsolicited requests for their Medicare numbers. If anyone other than your physician's office requests your Medicare information, do not provide it.
  • If you suspect Medicare fraud, contact the HHS OIG Hotline.
    Always remember that very little in life is free and if an offer sounds to good to be true, it isn't true.

July 2, 2019 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Update on Litigation of Medicare's 2 Midnight Rule

The Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA-full disclosure, I'm on their board) has been litigating with CMS on the observation status issue. The latest litigation on the observation status, Alexander v. Azar, has a new opinion decided on June 4, 2019.  On a motion for clarification and reconsideration filed by CMS, as well as a motion to seal, the Court in the June 4 order grants in part and denies in part the motion to seal and denies the motion for reconsideration and clarification.

Stay tuned.  This case is going to trial in the fall!

June 13, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Needing LTC but Unable to Afford It

The New York Times ran an article recently that doesn't bode well for many elder Americans.  Many Americans Will Need Long-Term Care. Most Won't be Able to Afford It reviews what is referred to as

the middle-class bind ... [where the elder has t]oo much money to qualify for Medicaid or subsidized housing, but not enough to pay for long-term care, an industry that has primarily pursued the well-off. ...

A recent analysis in Health Affairs, pointedly titled “The Forgotten Middle,” investigated how many middle-income seniors will be caught in that bind. The numbers were grim.

Using data from the national Health and Retirement Study, including personal income and assets and health status, the researchers defined the middle-income cohort as Americans from the 41st to the 80th percentile in terms of financial resources....

In 2029, for people 75 to 84 (ages when they’re likely to need long-term care), that would mean access to about $25,000 to $74,000 a year in current dollars. Over age 85, the middle-income category extends to $95,000.

The projection is that two-thirds are going to need some type of long-term care, yet "more than half will be unable to pay assisted living fees and medical costs in 2029, the study found." Even those owning a home aren't as house-rich as they may think.  Plus this group has a lot of debt, and not that much in savings.

Consider this:

The United States, unlike many Western democracies, has never created a broad public program covering long-term care. Medicare pays for doctors, hospitals, drugs and short-term rehab after hospitalization — not for independent or assisted living.

That could change one day — imagine a new Medicare Part LTC — but “that will be incredibly difficult to achieve politically,” [said one expert].

Policy types instead suggest more incremental changes by both government and industry. Perhaps Medicaid could cover seniors with slightly higher incomes, or modify its regulations to include housing costs along with health care.

May 16, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 6, 2019

Correlation to Medicare Ratings & Staffing

Kaiser Health News ran a story, Short-Staffed Nursing Homes See Drop In Medicare Ratings.  "In its update in April to Nursing Home Compare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gave its lowest star rating for staffing — one star on its five-star scale — to 1,638 homes. Most were downgraded because their payroll records reported no registered-nurse hours at all for four days or more, while the remainder failed to submit their payroll records or sent data that couldn’t be verified through an audit." The payroll records analyzed provide a good picture of various nursing homes and how they comply with the regulations. "CMS has been alarmed at the frequency of understaffing of registered nurses — the most highly trained category of nurses in a home — since the government last year began requiring homes to submit payroll records to verify staffing levels." In addition KHN has an interactive tool, Look-Up: How Nursing Home Staffing Fluctuates Nationwide.

May 6, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 25, 2019

SSA & Medicare Trustees Reports

I hope you know by now that the SSA and Medicare Trustees have released their annual reports. The news is about what you would expect, if you follow the news on their annual reports. One might say that the SSA Trustees gave us good news this year. Social Security Combined Trust Funds Gain One Year Says Board of Trustees. Disability Fund Shows Strong Improvement—Twenty Years projects that the fund will "run out of money" after 2034, meaning we have gained a year. "Running out of money" means that starting in 2035, SSA will pay 80% of benefits, rather than 100%.  For years, I've explained to students about the SSA Trust Fund and the Trustees Report. This year it dawned on me, when talking about the folks affected by the short fall, I'm part of those who will be affected.  I'm no longer teaching something abstract. I know people, including myself and my colleagues, who will be in that group absent action by Congress.  The SSA Trustees report is available here. With Medicare, the trustees really didn't have good news for us. Medicare Trustees Report shows Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will deplete in 7 years tells us "that the HI Trust Fund will be able to pay full benefits until 2026, the same as last year’s report."  The Medicare Trustees report is available here.

Hello Congress??

 

April 25, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Bye Bye Donut Hole

The Medicare Part D donut hole closed this year (yay) and although it may be gone, it's not forgotten.

Due to federal legislation, the donut hole is closed for brand-name drugs in 2019. This closure means that [that a beneficiary] will be responsible for 25% of the cost of ... brand-name drugs in this coverage period. Although the donut hole for brand-name drugs has closed, [the beneficiary] may still see a difference in cost between the initial coverage period and the donut hole. For example, if a drug’s total cost is $100 and [the beneficiary] pay[s] [the] plan’s $20 copay during the initial coverage period, [the beneficiary] will be responsible for paying $25 (25% of $100) during the coverage gap. The donut hole will close for generic drugs in 2020, at which point [a beneficiary] will be responsible for 25% of the cost of ...  generic drugs.

Kaiser Health News last week ran a story about the demise of the donut hole and the out of pocket costs beneficiaries still face. Doughnut Hole Is Gone, But Medicare’s Uncapped Drug Costs Still Bite Into Budgets  focuses on the need for an annual cap on out of pocket drug spending by telling the stories of some of those who have significant out of pocket costs even with the elimination of the donut hole. "Legislative changes have gradually closed the doughnut hole so that, this year, beneficiaries no longer face a coverage gap. In a standard Medicare drug plan, beneficiaries pay 25 percent of the price of their brand-name drugs until they reach $5,100 in out-of-pocket costs. Once patients reach that threshold, the catastrophic portion of their coverage kicks in and their obligation drops to 5 percent. But it never disappears."

Although none of the Medicare programs have caps on spending, the article illustrates that those enrolled in original Medicare can purchase Medigap policies, which do not extend to Part D  prescription drug plans.  There's a great chart in the article that compares the existing Part D program with proposed legislation which illustrates the effect of the recent proposal to cap the annual amount. 

Stay tuned and stay healthy.

March 31, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Broken System(s) and Good People Who Still Care

For those who read this Blog regularly, thank you.  Especially as I have been leaving the bulk of recent postings to my wonderful  blogging colleague and all-round elder law guru, Rebecca Morgan.  Thank you most of all, Becky! 

It is early morning on a Sunday as I type this.  The Arizona sun is not quite above the eastern horizon.  A calm morning after several days ...  okay, I confess, weeks ... of small troubles.  I had time to read The New York Times, and there it is once again, an article with a title and content that seem right on point for what I am pondering:

Patients ‘Hit the Call Bell and Nobody Comes.’ Hospital Nurses Demand ‘Safe Staffing’ Levels.

For the last several weeks, my sister and I have been struggling to understand how best to help our mother in the latest part of her journey with dementia.  Recently she fell twice in single week, when rising before dawn and struggling to get dressed by herself.  She did not need to be up so early, but in a lifetime of early rising, it is hard to change. Learning new routines, such as calling for help, is never easy, but especially so when memory and awareness are impaired by dementia.  Her second fall resulted in what Mom had long feared most, a fear that will resonate for many people.  She fractured her hip, as well as a few annoying ribs.  

This put the three of us, my sister, my mother and me, squarely in the middle of doctor consultations, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, home care agencies and a search for alternatives for care.  Do you have a mental image of Queen Elizabeth in London?  Perhaps you have seen photos or news footage of her in recent weeks, walking with determination and carrying her purse, as she attends to her royal duties?  Well, Queen Elizabeth and our mother are the same age and seem to have very similar abilities to persevere.  We think of our mother as a slightly smaller version of the Queen, perhaps walking a bit slower although with equal commitment to the task, complete with her own favorite handbag.  Or she was until the recent set of events.

At age 93, Mom sailed through surgery to stabilize her fractured hip, and even did pretty well during the first phase of recovery in the hospital.  One small blessing for Mom is that she has no memory of the falls, no recollection of the surgery, and no memory of pain. Thus she's surprised when it "hurts" to try to stand, much less walk.  Of course, both pain and understanding of what pain signifies, are important reminders of the need to take things slow.  

We've done the hospital surgery stay "thing" before with Mom, and we've learned to treat such events as a marathon, rather than a sprint.  We've learned, for example, that our mother's agitation after surgery makes IVs difficult and that any form of narcotic pain medication is likely to trigger days of vivid and disturbing hallucinations. For pain, fortunately tylenol is enough with Mom.  We work hard to come up with a way for someone (usually my sister, until I can fly in) to be there each night, when we know hospital staffing levels can be low and call buttons may not be answered quickly. We know that without being there, when Mom does sometimes complain of pain, we will to need to remind the staff that tylenol is usually sufficient.

We try to rotate nights.  My sister is a pro, and after weeks of my somewhat frantic naps on airplanes, I've become pretty good at falling into a wakeful sleep mode in an upright position.  Staying overnight in a hospital is disorienting for the healthiest person and much more so for someone like my mother who cannot understand why this "hotel" has staff members that keep waking her up at night to take her temperature and hand her medication to swallow.  I will be forever grateful to the nurse who, after my mother spit a full mouthful of water and the medicine back in her face, nonetheless returned promptly to help throughout the third shift, still offering smiles and kind words.  The nurses who advocate for change in The New York Times article have it right -- "safe staffing levels" are one key to sound hospital care; only with adequate staffing can nurses be expected to keep working in such taxing circumstances.

The next decision was about where to go after the hospital. One option presented by the discharge planner was to go to a skilled nursing facility, a/k/a nursing home.  We had previewed a wide range of places and we already had a list of possibilities. But we were pretty confident Mom could tolerate physical therapy, and therefore, after consultation, we opted for a facility that specialized in rehabilitation.  

One complication:  The rehab facility's admissions director said that they were not willing to take someone with dementia unless the family made sure there was 24/7 assistance during periods of confusion and, they emphasized, to keep her from wandering.  With gratitude, we accepted a brochure offered by the admissions director for a local home care agency that they had worked with before.  My sister, a true angel, and I, very much a mortal, knew we couldn't do this alone.

And thus began a strange variation on the "Bell Rings; Nobody Comes" theme of The New York Times article about hospital care.

The first yellow flag was when one of the line staff, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at the rehab facility, who heard we were hiring companions from an agency, commented, "Well, okay, if you want to do that, but just so you know, these people don't do a darn thing.  They won't lift a finger to help."  I didn't know what to say; I think I said something like, "Well, let us know if there is a problem."

The "problem" emerged quickly.  Companions from the home care agency said the rehab staff were not responding to call buttons when help was needed for our mother.  The rehab staff were complaining that the companions didn't provide any help.   I talked to an administrator at the rehab center.  He assured me that their policy was for staff  to respond promptly to call buttons and that he would remind the staff that a family member or hired companion was doing "the right thing" by using the call buttons to seek help.  

But the reports continued, even as Mom began to recover more function, and thus actually needed more help in key tasks because she was more mobile.  Different companions and even friends reported that the CNAs at the rehab center would, for example, help our mother to the bathroom toilet, but then would refuse to stay until she finished.  Some reported the CNA turning to the agency's companion and saying with disdain, "You should handle it from here."  

I tried talking again with Rehab's administrators, this time the director of nursing.  She was also quick to reassure me that we were not wrong to ask the rehab staff to assist our mother in the bathroom and to remain with her till she finished, as our mother was still unable to rise on her own and also could not or would not use the pull cord.  She thought the most recent report was about one new rehab employee, who may not yet understand his or her role.

But the reports continued.  One report came from a friend visiting Mom.  She noticed buzzers ringing endlessly on Mom's floor, even when available staff were chatting nearby.  I tried talking with the management staff again.  At one point, the home care agency actually swooped in and removed a companion we hired to help our mother, after the rehab center complained to them that the companion was complaining "too loudly" about the rehab staffing and lack of coordination with staff.  In response to the turmoil my sister ended up taking another night shift in rehab (after a long-day as an administrator for a charter school).  I started planning another flight to Arizona.

I slowly began to realize that this was not a problem that could be "fixed" with polite requests or even more directly-worded complaints about staffing roles.   I learned:

  • The direct care workers at the rehab center felt seriously over-worked and under-appreciated;
  • The rehab center was often short-staffed, especially when employees called off on short notice; 
  • The direct care workers resented the agency's companions "doing nothing" when an extra pair of hands, any hands, would have made their work easier;
  • There was tension between the direct care workers, most of them CNAs, and the cehab Center's other "higher" staff, including nurses and shift supervisors;
  • Family members of other patients were also concerned and confused about what to do about unevenness of care.  They weren't required to have a companion as their loved one did not have the dreaded "dementia." But their need for prompt assistance for loved ones recovering from car accidents, strokes, or major surgery was just as great.

A family member of another patient in rehab commented to me, "This is a broken system."  At first I thought she meant the Rehab Center.  But she clarified.  "This is just one part of a broken care system."  She meant that all of care is a broken system.

Continue reading

March 31, 2019 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Games, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Rural Nursing Homes Closing

The New York Times ran a story that notes that nursing homes are closing in rural America, leaving residents with few options.  Nursing Homes are Closing Across Rural American, Scattering Residents   highlights the dilemma for many in rural areas when the local nursing home closes. "More than 440 rural nursing homes have closed or merged over the last decade ... and each closure scattered patients like seeds in the wind. Instead of finding new care in their homes and communities, many end up at different nursing homes far from their families. ... In remote communities ... there are few choices for an aging population. Home health aides can be scarce and unaffordable to hire around the clock. The few senior-citizen apartments have waiting lists. Adult children have long since moved away to bigger cities."  Think about the implications when the facility closes and there isn't another one near by. Not only might the resident suffer from transfer trauma, there are other implications. As the article notes, with distance comes the lack of ability for frequent visits, the time spent traveling to the new SNF, the inability to get to the new SNF quickly if a need arises and the vagaries of Mother Nature who may heap bad weather on the area, making it unsafe to travel. There are various reasons why nursing homes in rural communities are closing, including financial instability, Medicaid reimbursement rates, failure to meet the minimum health and safety standards and even the inability to hire staff.

March 7, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Aging In Place Unmet Needs

Kaiser Health News ran a story recently, Seniors Aging In Place Turn To Devices And Helpers, But Unmet Needs Are Common details the use of caregivers and assistive devices to help them age in place. Reporting on a new study, the article notes that there are a substantial majority of elders with insufficient help and adapt their living in order to get by.  The study, published in the Commonwealth Fund, Are Older Americans Getting the Long-Term Services and Supports They Need? explains this issue "[o]lder adults’ needs have evolved and are no longer met by the Medicare program. With the recent passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA), Medicare Advantage (MA) plans can now provide beneficiaries with nonmedical benefits, such as long-term services and supports (LTSS), which Medicare does not cover."

The key findings and the conclusion from the study abstract show:

Two-thirds of older adults living in the community use some degree of LTSS. Reliance on assistive devices and environmental modifications is high; however many adults, particularly dual-eligible beneficiaries, experience adverse consequences of not receiving care. Although the recent policy change allowing MA plans to offer LTSS benefits is an important step toward meeting the medical and nonmedical needs of Medicare beneficiaries, only the one-third of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in MA plans stand to benefit. Accountable care organizations operating in traditional Medicare also should have the increased flexibility to provide nonmedical services. from the study.

February 19, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Frail, Old & LIving Independently

Kaiser Health News  published a story, Frail Seniors Find Ways To Live Independently. The focus of the story is on "a program for frail low-income seniors: Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE). Over the course of several months last year, an occupational therapist visited Jeffery and discussed issues she wanted to address. A handyman installed a new carpet. A visiting nurse gave her the feeling of being looked after."

A study of the project, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Society (JAMA) Internal Medicine shows promising results. "New research shows that CAPABLE provides considerable help to vulnerable seniors who have trouble with “activities of daily living” — taking a shower or a bath, getting dressed, transferring in and out of bed, using the toilet or moving around easily at home. Over the course of five months, participants in the program experienced 30 percent fewer difficulties with such activities, according to a randomized clinical trial...."

The article also explores the costs of the program-and it saves money!  There are efforts to expand this program's reach, including approaching "Medicare Advantage plans, which cover about 19 million Medicare recipients and can now offer an array of nonmedical benefits to members, to adopt CAPABLE. Also, Johns Hopkins and Stanford Medicine have submitted a proposal to have traditional Medicare offer the program as a bundled package of services. Accountable care organizations, groups of hospitals and physicians that assume financial risk for the health of their patients, are also interested, given the potential benefits and cost savings."

Stay tuned!

February 4, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Science, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

More on Merit-Based ALJ Hiring

Health & Human Services has posted information on their blog about how they are implementing the new hiring process for ALJs. Establishing a New Merit-Based Process for Appointing Administrative Law Judges at HHS explains the new process, the reasons for it, and when it became effective.

HHS is announcing how the department will implement a new ALJ selection and appointment process. The department’s ALJs work for the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (101) and the Departmental Appeals Board (13). The DAB also has seven administrative appeals judges and five Departmental Appeals Board members, and the new ALJ selection and appointment process will apply to these “comparable officials” as well.

The new HHS ALJ selection and appointment process - PDF is effective immediately and is described on the websites of the OMHA and the DAB.

This process is described in the post as merit-based and does not require consultation with anyone outside of the process.  The process is described in detail in a 4 page document from November, 2018, available here.

To understand the significance of this change, read my blog post from October 26, 2018 here.

January 15, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hearing Loss: The Impact is More Than Loss of Hearing

Know anyone who has hearing loss?  Maybe you yourself suffer from hearing loss-and if not now, you may in the future. Hearing loss has ramifications beyond the loss of hearing. As the article in the New York Times explains in Hearing Loss Threatens Mind, Life and Limb "[n]ot only is poor hearing annoying and inconvenient for millions of people, especially the elderly. It is also an unmistakable health hazard, threatening mind, life and limb, that could cost Medicare much more than it would to provide hearing aids and services for every older American with hearing loss." Oh and the news doesn't get any better: "[t]wo huge new studies have demonstrated a clear association between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia, depression, falls and even cardiovascular diseases. In a significant number of people, the studies indicate, uncorrected hearing loss itself appears to be the cause of the associated health problem."

Those with age-related hearing loss can tell you it doesn't happen overnight.  In fact, because it "comes on really slowly, [it makes] it harder for people to know when to take it seriously...."  The article explains the correlation between hearing loss and the impact on the brain (fascinating yet scary). And in case you didn't know "hearing aids and accompanying services are typically not covered by medical insurance, Medicare included. Such coverage was specifically excluded when the Medicare law was passed in 1965, a time when hearing loss was not generally recognized as a medical issue and hearing aids were not very effective...." 

So, do a few things now: 1.  write your Congressperson about Medicare's coverage of hearing aids, 2. schedule an appointment to have your hearing testing and 3. turn down the volume on your devices.

January 13, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Is Hospital Care "Elder-Friendly"?

This article is a couple of months old, but I don't think the subject is at all dated.   Stat ran an opinion piece, U.S. hospitals ignore improving elder care. That’s a mistake explaining that hospitals aren't designed to be elder-friendly 

In the 21st century, health care is to elderhood as education is to childhood. But we don’t see bond measures for the “construction, expansion, renovation, and equipping” of hospitals to optimize care of old people, an investment that would surely benefit Americans of all ages.

People age 65 and older make up just 16 percent of the U.S. population but nearly 40 percent of hospitalized adults. In 2014, Americans over age 74 had the highest rate of hospital stays, followed by those in their late 60s and early 70s.

Remarkably, hospitals aren’t designed with elders in mind. Walk through one and you’ll almost invariably find cheerful decor for children, services and facilities aimed at adults, and a gauntlet of obstacles and insults to elders.

Thinking about the design of the hospitals, consider these notes from the article' "[o]ld people end up in old buildings. That usually means long walks down halls without railings or chairs with arms for rest stops. It means signs that are hard to read until you are right under them. It means a one-size-fits-all approach to both facilities and care that doesn’t acknowledge that the needs, preferences, and realities of a 75- or 95-year-old with a medical condition might differ from those of a 35- or 55-year-old with the same thing."

Noticing the volume of business from this demographic, the article highlights some efforts 

A collaboration of industry leaders, including the American Hospital Association, the John A. Hartford Foundation, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, has launched an age-friendly health system initiative. While its purview is limited to a few geriatric conditions, it’s a step in the right direction. (And the field of geriatrics is finally beginning to model itself after pediatrics, taking a more whole health, life stage approach to elderhood.)

Some of the best ideas for hospital design come from outside health care. Innovations developed for aging-in-place homes or continuing care communities offer prototypes of “silver architecture.” Businesses like Microsoft are investing in structural and people-flow design that meets needs across the lifespan. They are adopting the position that if you design for the mythical “average human” you create barriers, whereas if you design for those with disabilities you create systems that benefit everyone.

January 10, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Other | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Do You Know Your Medicare Coverage?

As elderlaw profs, it's likely that we cover Medicare in our courses every semester. Whether you teach the subject or your are a beneficiary, how well do you know Medicare coverage basics? Kiplinger offers a short quiz on Medicare that allows you to test your Medicare IQ. The quiz, Does Medicare Cover That? is easy to complete and each question includes an explanation accompanying the answer.  And once you have finished this quiz, take the next one, True or False: Test Yourself on Social Security Claiming Strategies.

Check them out!

January 3, 2019 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

For Nursing Homes Trapped in A Cycle of Failure -- What Solutions Are Available?

Recently I had a chat with a lawyer I've known for years who does a very good job representing large nursing home chains. We found ourselves shaking our heads about a series of news stories reported by central Pennsylvania's Patriot News focusing on care facilities formerly operating as part of the Golden Living chain. See the investigatory report, Still Failing the Frail.

Apparently, even after pressured transfers of the facilities to different companies, presumably companies with better management and better financial resources, many of them "continue to rack up citations with the state Health Department" for substandard practices.    I asked the lawyer whether he knew of any nursing home chain that has been able to pull out of death spiral?  He couldn't remember one.   

There is very little margin when low-income residents depend on Medicaid for payments.  Once a facility is affected by fines and pressures to increase staffing, the margin becomes even tighter.   Few states want to assume the roles of trustee or receivers for such properties.  The article concludes that one necessary step is to increase Medicaid funding.   

Although researchers recommend that nursing homes provide at least 4.1 hours of care per resident per day, it remains an open question whether all nursing homes can afford to do that. 

State and federal governments are the primary payers for the vast majority of nursing home residents. Residents receiving short-term rehabilitation are generally covered by Medicare, administered by the federal government. Long-term residents are generally covered by Medicaid, administered by state governments.

 

The problem is that state Medicaid programs, as in Pennsylvania, pay nursing homes far less than federal Medicare – sometimes as much as a third.

 

Although nursing home advocates and some researchers believe for-profit nursing homes routinely skimp on care in order to paid their profits, there are also genuine concerns about whether Pennsylvania’s Medicaid funding is adequate.

 

Researchers recommend how much of existing Medicaid and Medicare dollars are going to profit and administrative costs in homes. That would help determine whether Medicaid rates need to be raised and, if staffing standards are also raised, how much additional funding they need to provide those levels.

For some states, such as Pennsylvania, the Medicaid funding formula is part of the challenge.  As discussed in the series, other states have been able to create direct payment models to assure better accountability for patient care.  

December 19, 2018 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

High Number GA Nursing Homes Receive Medicare Penalties

Yesterday I blogged about a SNF chain in Texas filing bankruptcy.  Today, it's about Georgia's nursing homes. Georgia Health News reported last week that Medicare penalties hit most Ga. nursing homes. According to the article 75% of the SNFs in Ga have been hit with penalties regarding unnecessary hospital readmissions. Twenty-three percent received bonuses for avoiding such a problem.  "Kaiser Health News reported that hospitalizations of nursing home residents, while decreasing in recent years, remain a problem, with nearly 11 percent of patients in 2016 being sent to hospitals for conditions that might have been avoided with better medical oversight. ... The program of bonuses and penalties is intended to discourage nursing homes from discharging patients too quickly. That’s something that is financially tempting, because Medicare fully covers only the first 20 days of a stay and generally stops paying anything after 100 days...." The article includes a link to the bonuses/penalties list, which can be found here.

December 12, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

High Number GA Nursing Homes Receive Medicare Penalties

Yesterday I blogged about a SNF chain in Texas filing bankruptcy.  Today, it's about Georgia's nursing homes. Georgia Health News reported last week that Medicare penalties hit most Ga. nursing homes. According to the article 75% of the SNFs in Ga have been hit with penalties regarding unnecessary hospital readmissions. Twenty-three percent received bonuses for avoiding such a problem.  "Kaiser Health News reported that hospitalizations of nursing home residents, while decreasing in recent years, remain a problem, with nearly 11 percent of patients in 2016 being sent to hospitals for conditions that might have been avoided with better medical oversight. ... The program of bonuses and penalties is intended to discourage nursing homes from discharging patients too quickly. That’s something that is financially tempting, because Medicare fully covers only the first 20 days of a stay and generally stops paying anything after 100 days...." The article includes a link to the bonuses/penalties list, which can be found here.

December 12, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Several Items Relating to Nursing Homes & Quality of Care

I have collected four  items regarding nursing homes, that  I thought I'd summarize in one  post.

First

Regular readers will recall that Florida now requires SNFs to have generators (after last year's hurricane).  Last month's Health News Florida reported that many nursing hones are seeking extensions of time on the requirement to have generators. Nursing Homes Seek More Time On Generator Requirements notes that "[m]ore than 40 percent of Florida nursing homes are asking health-care regulators for more time to meet backup-power requirements pushed by Gov. Rick Scott after Hurricane Irma last year... But ... the state’s top health-care regulator, said his agency won’t approve waiver requests for deadbeat facilities that haven’t worked over the past several months to carry out emergency backup-power plans."  Slightly more than 25% of the facilities are in compliance and over half of ALFs are.  Some ALFs not in compliance are the focus of penalties, "the state has moved ahead with penalizing a handful of ALFs that aren’t in compliance. In November, the state has entered into settlement agreements with more than a dozen ALF providers across the state to settle allegations that they failed to meet the requirements, according to a review of information on a state website."

Second

The  Washington Post ran an article last month, Overdoses, bedsores, broken bones: What happened when a private-equity firm sought to care for society’s most vulnerable. The article focused on the ownership of of a chain owned by "the Carlyle Group, one of the richest private-equity firms in the world [where], the ManorCare nursing-home chain struggled financially until it filed for bankruptcy in March. During the five years preceding the bankruptcy, the second-largest nursing-home chain in the United States exposed its roughly 25,000 patients to increasing health risks, according to inspection records analyzed by The Washington Post."  The article includes a response from the chain as well as the private equity group:

Carlyle and HCR ManorCare representatives said care at the nursing homes was never compromised by financial considerations. The cost-cutting trimmed administrative expenses, not nursing costs, they said. The number of nursing hours provided per patient stayed fairly constant in the years leading up to the bankruptcy, according to the figures that the company reported to the government.

HCR ManorCare officials also disputed the idea that quality at the homes had suffered in recent years. They said their nursing homes offered excellent service based on the ratings issued by Medicare, the federal government’s insurance program for older Americans. ManorCare homes averaged 3.2 stars in the years before bankruptcy, which was slightly below the U.S. average. Some watchdog groups, such as the Center for Medicare Advocacy, are critical of the five-star rating system, however, because it relies on unaudited data reported by nursing homes.

The article examined complaints in several states, reported on the views expressed by the private euity firm, including the role of Medicare reimbursements and reported that "[a]fter the bankruptcy,  the nursing home chain was bought by Promedica Health, a nonprofit group."

Third

Bloomberg Law reported last week that payroll data is being used to examine staffing. Sparse Nursing Home Staffing to Be Sniffed Out in Payroll Data explains that "[t]he payroll data will be used to identify nursing homes that have a significant drop in staff on weekends or have several days in a quarter without a registered nurse on site, the federal Medicare agency said Nov. 30. Nursing homes must have a registered nurse on site every day for eight hours, the agency said on its website."

Fourth,

In that same vein, Kaiser Health News reported Feds Order More Weekend Inspections Of Nursing Homes To Catch Understaffing. The payroll data mentioned in item #3 plays a role. "The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it will identify nursing homes for which payroll records indicate low weekend staffing or that they operate without a registered nurse. Medicare will instruct state inspectors to focus on those potential violations during visits."  Does this mean there will be a flurry of inspections? No. As the article explains, "[t]he new directive instructs inspectors to more thoroughly evaluate staffing at facilities Medicare flags. The edict does not mean a flurry of sudden inspections. Instead, Medicare wants heightened focus on those nursing homes when inspectors come for their standard reviews, which take place roughly once a year for most facilities."

December 5, 2018 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink