Category Archives: Medicare

Seniors’ obesity-counseling benefit goes largely unused

Share

ScaleBy Phil Galewitz
KHN

Three years ago, the Obama administration offered hope to millions of overweight seniors when it announced Medicare would offer free weight-loss counseling.

Officials estimated that about 30 percent of seniors are obese and therefore eligible for counseling services, which studies have shown improve the odds of significant weight loss.

But less than 1 percent of Medicare’s 50 million beneficiaries have used the benefit so far. Experts blame the government’s failure to promote the program, rules that limit where and when patients can go for counseling as well as the low fees for providers.

Since November 2011, about 120,000 seniors have participated, including about 50,000 last year, according to federal data.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Dr. Scott Kahan, an obesity medicine specialist at George Washington University.

“It’s a huge lost opportunity,” said Bonnie Modugno, a registered dietician in Santa Monica, Calif., who advises doctors how to provide weight loss counseling.

By  comparison, about 250,000 seniors last year used Medicare’s tobacco cessation counseling benefit, which started in 2005 and offers greater flexibility about how providers can offer it. Nationally, 9 percent of seniors smoke, while 30 percent are obese. Continue reading

Share

New Medicaid rule could hinder shift away from nursing homes

Share

A younger man holds an elderly man's handBy Christine Vestal
Stateline

For more than 30 years, states have been finding new ways to care for aged and disabled Medicaid beneficiaries without confining them to nursing homes.

In fact, the number of people living in skilled nursing facilities has declined significantly over the last decade, despite a marked increase in the ranks of the elderly in the U.S.

Starting this year, a new federal rule will require states to ensure that long-term care alternatives to nursing homes—such as assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities, group homes and adult day care—work with residents and their families to develop individual care plans specifying the services and setting each resident wants.

The overarching goal is to create a “home-like” atmosphere, rather than an institutional one.

The overarching goal is to create a “home-like” atmosphere, rather than an institutional one and to give residents choices about their care.

While nearly everyone supports the concept, states, providers and even some consumer advocates are complaining that the rule could make it difficult for health care providers to fulfill increasing demand for long-term care outside of nursing homes.

Under the rule, for example, elderly people with dementia who enter assisted living facilities should not be subjected to constraints, such as locked exits, unless they are at risk for wandering.

But if they share living space with other residents with dementia who do need to be prevented from wandering, it will be difficult to allow them to leave the building whenever they want without jeopardizing the safety of others.

“The goal was completely laudable,” said Martha Roherty, director of the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities, which works to help elders and people with disabilities live in their communities for as long as possible.

“Unfortunately, what’s happened is that it is limiting individuals’ choice of what and where to receive (long-term care) services rather than broadening it, especially as it relates to seniors,” she said. Continue reading

Share

Hospitals take cues from the hospitality industry

Share

November 4, 2014

This KHN story also ran in The Washington Post.

Two years ago, Inova Health System recruited a top executive who was not a physician, had never worked in hospital administration and barely knew the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.

What Paul Westbrook specialized in was customer service. His background is in the hotel business – Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton, to be precise.

He is one of dozens of hospital executives around the country with a new charge. Called chief patient experience officers, their focus is on the service side of hospital care: improving communication with patients and making sure staff are attentive to their needs, whether that’s more face time with nurses or quieter hallways so they can sleep.

It’s a dimension of hospital care that has long been neglected, patient advocates say, and it was put high on hospitals’ agendas only when Medicare started tracking patient satisfaction and, in late 2012, shaving payments to hospitals that fell short.

The hospitals are judged on answers to such questions as how well their doctors and nurses communicated with them, how clean and quiet the hospital was, whether they received help when they needed it and how well providers explained the drugs they were given.

“There is a new recognition that the patient is important,” said Leah Binder, president and chief executive of the Leapfrog Group, an employer-based coalition that advocates for greater health-care quality and safety.

Hospital routines have traditionally been designed to suit employees, not customers, she said. “The patient used to be maybe 10th on the list of a hospital’s priorities.” Continue reading

Share

Home health workers struggle for better pay and health insurance

Share
Home health care workers Jasmine Almodovar (far right) and Artheta Peters (center) take part in a Cleveland rally for higher pay on Sept. 4. (Photo by Sarah Jane Tribble, WPCN/Ideastream)

Home health care workers Jasmine Almodovar (far right) and Artheta Peters (center) take part in a Cleveland rally for higher pay on Sept. 4. (Photo: Sarah Jane Tribble.)

By Sarah Jane Tribble, WCPN

Holly Dawson believes her job is a calling.

She is one of about 2 million home care workers in the country. The jobs come with long hours and low pay.

Each workday, Dawson drives through the Cleveland suburbs to help people take their medicines, bathe and do the dishes. She also takes time to lend a sympathetic ear.

George Grellinger, a former client of hers, has dementia. He recently fell down the back steps of his home. Dawson remains friends and regularly stops in to check on him. To remain living at home, Grellinger had to switch to an aide who is covered by his veterans’ benefits.

A lot of us are barely home because if we don’t go to work, we don’t get time off. We don’t get paid vacations. And some of us haven’t had raises in years.”

When Dawson worked for him, Grellinger paid an agency $37 for two hours of her time each day. Dawson received $13 an hour, higher than the national average for home health aides. She had to pay her own taxes and health care benefits. Dawson says she can’t remember the last time she could afford health insurance.

Dawson says she has been a home health aide for 31 years. She has never done it for the money, rather to help people like Grellinger, she says.

But the conditions of home health work are leading many aides to seek better pay and benefits.

On an early September morning, home health workers held a rally in Cleveland. Jasmine Almodovar, 35, chants with the crowd: “We want change and we don’t mean pennies!”

She says she earns $9.50 an hour, which is actually just above average for a home health worker in Ohio.

“We work really long hours, really hard work,” she says. “A lot of us are barely home because if we don’t go to work, we don’t get time off. We don’t get paid vacations. And some of us haven’t had raises in years.”

Almodovar says her last raise was four years ago. She makes about $21,000 a year so she makes too much to qualify for Medicaid, but paying for a plan on Ohio’s federal exchange doesn’t fit in her monthly budget. Continue reading

Share

2015 Medicare Part B premiums and deductibles to remain the same as last two years

Share

Center for Medicare & Medicaid ServicesNext 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.

via 2015 Medicare Part B premiums and deductibles to remain the same as last two years.

Share

Medicare open enrollment fast approaching — What we know so far

Share

Calendar

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.

.Rather than rely on the sticker price of a plan alone, it’s critical that beneficiaries compare the available options in their area to make sure they’re in the plan that covers the drugs and doctors they need at the best price.

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

Share

After a hospital stay, you may you weren’t ‘admitted’

Share

This KHN story also ran in wapo.

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

Share

Turning 65? Know your Medicare options – Guest column

Share

Center for Medicare & Medicaid ServicesMedicare 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

Share

Suspicious HIV drug prescriptions abound in Medicare

Share

propublica thumbnailThe 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
ProPublica

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

Share

Medicare experiment could signal sea change for hospice

Share

Diane Meier 176By 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

Share

Good News for Boomers: Medicare’s Hospital Trust Fund flush until 2030

Share

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

Share

Does selling your home affect eligibility for assisted living?

Share

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

Share

Putting the Home in a nursing home

Share

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

Share

Without federal action, states move on long-term care

Share

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.

A younger man holds an elderly man's handBy Michael Ollove
Stateline

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

Share