Next year’s standard Medicare Part B monthly premium and deductible will remain the same as the last two years. Medicare Part B covers physicians’ services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, durable medical equipment, and other items. For the approximately 49 million Americans enrolled in Medicare Part B, premiums and deductibles will remain unchanged in 2015 at $104.90 and $147, respectively.
“Welcome to America’s hottest talk line. Ladies, to talk to interesting and exciting guys free, press 1 now. Guys, hot ladies are waiting to talk to you . . . .”
Wait! I thought I was calling Social Security to ask a question about enrolling in Medicare.
It’s the first hour of my mission to sign up for Medicare and already I’m making mistakes. In this case, it’s minor (and amusing), misdialing the toll-free number by one digit.
Medicare is also easy to reach by phone (as long as you dial correctly) at 800-MEDICARE.
Even for me, a consumer reporter who has written about health-insurance issues, enrolling in Medicare is a daunting task.
The terminology is confusing and the options are seemingly infinite, based on the amount of promotional material that’s begun arriving in my mailbox.
The letters from various insurance carriers began appearing exactly six months before my 65th birthday and after three months they weighed 1.5 pounds. More packets arrive daily.
Medicare experts tell me I can thank the data brokers for the onslaught: Names and birth dates are for sale to anyone.
Enrolling is a task I’d like to put off, but I can’t. I no longer have job-based insurance, and my current health insurer has notified me that my policy will soon expire, on the first of the month in which I turn 65.
I know that the decisions I make may differ from those made by friends, relatives and even my husband. Yet we share many of the same frustrations in the sign-up process. For anyone in a similar situation, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned since I embarked on my Medicare sign-up mission.
Just do it!
Yes, Medicare is complicated, but turning 65 is the time to deal with this. The government will not automatically enroll you, unless you are already drawing Social Security benefits. Continue reading
By Michelle Andrew
KHN / September 30th
Medicare beneficiaries who want to make changes to their prescription drug plans or Medicare Advantage coverage can do so starting Oct. 15 during the Medicare’s program’s annual open enrollment period.
There will be somewhat fewer plans to pick from this year, but in general people will have plenty of options, experts say.
And although premiums aren’t expected to rise markedly overall in 2015—and in some cases may actually decline—some individual plans have signaled significantly higher rates.
The annual open enrollment period is also a once-a-year opportunity to switch to a private Medicare Advantage plan from the traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan or vice versa.
The annual open enrollment period is also a once-a-year opportunity to switch to a private Medicare Advantage plan from the traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan or vice versa. Open enrollment ends Dec. 7.
Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released some specifics about 2015 premiums and plans, many details about provider networks, drug formularies and the like won’t be available until later this fall. Here’s what we know so far: Continue reading
An increasing number of seniors who spend time in the hospital are surprised to learn that they were not “admitted” patients — even though they may have stayed overnight in a hospital bed and received treatment, diagnostic tests and drugs.
Because they were not considered sick enough to require admission but also were not healthy enough to go home, they were kept for observation care, a type of outpatient service.
The distinction between inpatient status and outpatient status matters: Seniors must have three consecutive days as admitted patients to qualify for Medicare coverage for follow-up nursing home care, and no amount of observation time counts for that three-day tally.
That leaves some observation patients with a tough choice: Pay the nursing home bill themselves — often tens of thousands of dollars – or go home without the care their doctor prescribed and recover as best they can.
Angry seniors have sued Medicare and appealed to Congress to change the rules they say make no sense. Although Medicare officials recently began experimenting with limited exemptions, they have been unable to resolve the problem.
But most observation patients with private health insurance don’t face such tough choices. Private insurance policies generally pay for nursing home coverage whether a patient had been admitted or not.
Here’s a primer comparing how Medicare and private insurers handle observation care. Continue reading
Medicare tips from Oraida Roman, president of Senior Products for Humana’s Intermountain Region
Approximately 11,000 adults become eligible for Medicare every day, reflecting a dramatically increasing senior population, and that number is only going to grow.
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts there will be nearly 47 million seniors age 65 and up in 2015 and about 72.1 million seniors – nearly 20 percent of the population – by 2030.,
Here in Washington, the 65 and older population is expected to increase from 13.9 percent of the overall population in 2015 to 18.1 percent of the overall population by 2030.
Health concerns are a major issue for seniors, with nine of 10 older adults living with at least one chronic condition, such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension or lung disease, according to the National Council on Aging.
Making matters worse, these conditions place a significant financial burden on seniors and, sometimes, their caregivers. As a result, there’s a clear need for access to affordable health care that meets the needs of individuals as they age.
As Seattle residents approach their 65th birthday, it is important for them to know their Medicare options, including when they can enroll and the types of health plans available. Continue reading
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finds Medicare spent tens of millions of dollars in 2012 for HIV drugs there’s little evidence patients needed. A 77-year-old woman with no record of HIV got $33,500 of medication.
By Charles Ornstein
Medicare spent more than $30 million in 2012 on questionable HIV medication costs, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a report set for release Wednesday.
The report offers a litany of possible fraud schemes, all paid for by Medicare’s prescription drug program known as Part D.
Among the most egregious:
In Detroit, a 77-year-old woman purportedly filled $33,500 worth of prescriptions for 10 different HIV medications. But there’s no record she had HIV or that she had visited the doctors who wrote the scripts.
A 48-year-old in Miami went to 28 different pharmacies to pick up HIV drugs worth nearly $200,000, almost 10 times what average patients get in a year. The prescriptions were supposedly written by 16 health providers, an unusually high number.
And on a single day, a third patient received $17,500 of HIV drugs — and none the rest of the year. She got more than twice the recommended dose of five HIV drug ingredients. Continue reading
By Michelle Andrews
KHN / JUL 29, 2014
Diane Meier is the director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, a national organization that aims to increase the number of palliative care programs in hospitals and elsewhere for patients with serious illnesses.
Meier is also a professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
We spoke about a recently launched pilot program under the health law that allows hospice patients participating in the pilot to continue to receive life-prolonging treatment. This is an edited version of that conversation.
Q. There’s a lot of confusion about how hospice care differs from palliative care. Maybe we should start by clearing up what those terms mean. Continue reading
Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which finances about half the health program for seniors and the disabled, won’t run out of money until 2030, the program’s trustees said Monday.
That’s four years later than projected last year and 13 years later than projected the year before the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Continue reading
Q. I’m a realtor who’s listing a client’s home. She is on Social Security and is moving into assisted-living housing. Will the proceeds from the sale of her home affect her eligibility for housing, which is based on her income?
A. This is an unusual question because assisted-living facilities typically do not have special eligibility criteria for low-income residents, experts say. Continue reading
Mealtime. Naptime. Bath time. Bedtime. Everything is on a schedule for residents in a traditional nursing home, leaving little flexibility for personal decision making.
But LaVrene Norton is working to change that.
Norton is founder and president of Action Pact, a national consulting firm. It specializes in helping retirement communities and nursing homes train staff and design their facilities to feel and be more like living at home.
Since beginning work on the “household model” in 1984, Norton has helped design hundreds of these communities. Continue reading
Some states are taking steps to ensure that more seniors can get the kind of long-term care they want — without becoming poor to get it.
By Michael Ollove
Three years after the demise of the long-term care piece of the Affordable Care Act, some states are retooling their Medicaid programs to maximize the number of people who can get care at home and minimize the number who have to become poor to receive help.
They also are trying to save state dollars. Medicaid is a joint state-federal program, and long-term care for the elderly is putting an ever greater burden on state budgets: Total Medicaid spending for long-term services rose from $113 billion in 2007 to nearly $140 billion in 2012. Continue reading
During a hernia operation, Dorothea Handron’s surgeon unknowingly pierced her bowel. It took five days for doctors to determine she had an infection.
By the time they operated on her again, she was so weakened that she was placed in a medically induced coma at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, North Carolina.
Comatose and on a respirator for six weeks, she contracted pneumonia. “When they stopped the sedation and I woke up, I had no idea what had happened to me,” said Handron, 60. “I kind of felt like Rip Van Winkle.”
Because of complications like Handron’s, Vidant, an academic medical center in eastern North Carolina, is likely to have its Medicare payments docked this fall through the government’s toughest effort yet to crack down on infections and other patient injuries, federal records show. Continue reading
Doctors with unusual billing patterns often have been disciplined by their state medical boards or have faced accusations against their licenses.
By Charles Ornstein
ProPublica, June 20, 2014
Over the past couple months, media organizations including ProPublica have been busy dissecting data released by Medicare on payments made to health professionals in 2012.
We’ve uncovered unusual billing patterns :Doctors who only bill for the most complicated and high-priced office visits, and ambulance companies in New Jersey who ferry patients to and from dialysis appointments dozens of times a year.
But one thread connecting various stories by us and others is how often doctors with unusual billing patterns have been disciplined by their state medical boards or have faced accusations against their licenses. Continue reading
The state with the highest marks long-term services and support for the elderly, disabled and their caregivers was Minnesota, followed by Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska.
The lowest ranked states were: Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, and, coming in last, Kentucky, according to a new report.
The report “Raising Expectations: A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities and Family Caregivers,” evaluates 26 indicators in five key dimensions that make up the Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) system in each state. It was produced by AARP, The Commonwealth Fund and The SCAN Foundation.
Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, and Wisconsin, in this order, ranked the highest across all five dimensions of the scorecard..
These eight states clearly established a level of performance at a higher tier than other states—even other states in the top quartile. But even these top states have ample room to improve.
The cost of long sterm continues to outpace affordability for middle-income families, and private long-term care insurance is not filling the gap. Continue reading
FAQ: Hospital Observation Care Can Be Costly For Medicare Patients
The number of Medicare patients hospitalized for observation – and ineligible for follow-up nursing home coverage – beyond 48 hours has increased five-fold in the past six years. This updated FAQ explains how to avoid observation care and what you need to know if you can’t
By Susan Jaffee
Some seniors think Medicare made a mistake. Others are stunned when they find out that being in a hospital for days doesn’t always mean they were actually admitted.
Instead, they received observation care, considered by Medicare to be an outpatient service. The observation designation means they can have higher out-of-pocket expenses and fewer Medicare benefits.
Yet, a government investigation found that observation patients often have the same health problems as those who are admitted.
More Medicare beneficiaries are entering hospitals as observation patients every year. The number rose 88 percent over the past six years, to 1.8 million nationally in 2012, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which helps guide Congress on Medicare issues. At the same time, Medicare hospital admissions stayed about the same.
Here are some common questions and answers about observation care and the coverage gap that can result. (Seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage should ask their plans about their observation care rules since they can vary.)
Q. What is observation care? Continue reading