Washington Watch

 

ELDER STAMP

In an effort to raise awareness of elder abuse, a group of senators has moved to create a "semi-postal" stamp, called appropriately enough, "Stamp Out Elder Abuse." (A semi-postal stamp is one issued to raise money for a worthy cause and sold at a premium over the printed amount on the stamp.) It can be purchased at the post office or online at about.usps.com.

It is estimated that one in 10 Americans 60 years or age or older have been victims of some form of elder abuse, which can range from neglect, to theft, to physical or sexual abuse.

As an example, in terms of financial abuse only, the General Accounting Office notes that such fraud costs older adults an estimated $29 billion a year. However, this may be an undercount as many cases are not reported, especially when they involve a family member.

The monies raised by the stamp will go to the Administration on Community Living or ACL (formerly the Administration on Aging) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). ACL funds would be used to support ways "to prevent and respond to the abuse of older adults," while those for the DOJ will be used to prosecute cases of abuse, data collection and litigation support.

"Vulnerable seniors can be victimized even by the people who are supposed to be caring for them, and congress has a duty to stop it," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

For more information, visit aging.senate.gov.

BILLS AND MORE BILLS

According to a study published in the Journal of Health Affairs, more than half of Medicare patients who are considered seriously ill face financial difficulties in paying their medical bills, especially prescription drug costs, followed by hospital bills, ambulance rides and visits to the emergency room.

Seriously ill individuals were defined for the purposes of the study as those with a condition that over three years "required two or more hospitalizations and visits to three or more doctors." The most causes were heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

More than half of the patients included in the study have seen five to nine doctors over the past three years.

Broken down further, more than one-third have used all or most of their savings to pay health bills, 27% have been contacted by a collection agency in regard to lack of payment, and another 23% were unable to pay for basics such as food, heat and housing.

And almost half (45%) reported that as a result they faced emotional or psychological pressures. Yet, according to the Journal article, this is an issue "that hasn't gotten much attention."

"We did not expect to see this extent of financial distress in the Medicare population," said Michael Anne Kyle, lead author of the study.

For more information, visit healthaffairs.com.

OSTEOPOROSIS INCREASING

This disease, characterized by the hump on the back is not talked about as much as some other illnesses, but it affects some 2 million Medicare beneficiaries.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), "osteoporotic fractures are responsible for more hospitalizations than heart attacks, strokes and breast cancer combined." An incredibly high number for an illness that is often over-looked.

Furthermore, a contributing factor is the lack of attention to a fairly easy way to reduce the number of repetitive fractures.

For example, according to the NOF, only 9% of women who suffered an osteoporotic fracture were screened for osteoporosis with a bone mineral density test within six months following their fracture." These "secondary fractures" could have reduced the costs to Medicare by 5% to 20% or in dollar amounts by $310 million to $1.2 billion over 2-3 years.

"The good news is that we have the tools to stem this crisis, with Medicare paying for bone density testing and FDA-approved drug treatment that can help reduce spine and hip fractures by up to 70%," said Elizabeth Thompson, CEO of the NOF.

The NOF is calling for Medicare to eliminate cuts to payment rates for osteoporosis screening and a national education campaign to raise awareness of the disease and what steps can be taken to prevent or treat it.

For more information, visit nof.org.

NOW YOUR HOUSE

Starting this year, AARP members will be able to receive some new benefits with a real estate program established for them by the Realogy Holdings Corr.

Under this program, AARP members can "earn a cash back reward or bonus when they buy or sell a home with one of Realogy's associates, such as Century 21 or Coldwell Banker, among others.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, some 113 million Americans, age 50 and up, "made up nearly 40% of home buyers and the largest of group of home sellers at 55%."

However, it should be noted that this service will not be available in all states and where it is so, it must be a sale or purchase through a program-introduced real estate agent.

For more information, visit aarp.org.

CHEMICAL ABUSE

No, this is not about vaping, although that is also a source of chemical abuse. This is in regard to using antipsychotic drugs in some nursing homes to sedate residents. In many cases, this applies to those patients with dementia and is used to control unwanted behaviors. But, in other cases, it can be just for the convenience of the staff.

Unfortunately, these drugs can also increase the chance of a heart attack, stroke or even death.

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has started a national consumer education campaign to advise the public of the misuse of these antipsychotic drugs.

There are close to 180,000 nursing home patients, many with various stages of dementia. No one knows how many have been given these drugs and in many cases neither patients or staff has received a clinical diagnosis stating that they are required.

In addition to raising awareness of this issue, the campaign suggests ways to establish patient rights and help families insist on care without using these drugs.

"Use of antipsychotic drugs to sedate or change behavior is a chemical restraint," said Lori Smetanka, executive director of the Consumer Voice, "residents have the right to individualized care that meets their needs."

For more information, contact the Consumer Voice at theconsumervoice.org.

STAYING HOME

Most people, as they age, want to remain in the familiarity of their home. But, sometimes that proves difficult. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) has provided a source that can help: the Eldercare Locator.

This organization was established and is funded by the Administration for Community Living (formerly the Administration on Aging) and is administered by the n4a.

Many issues that can result in negative outcomes can be resolved as easily as arranging a home that better meets the needs of people of age. For instance, individuals may find that they have difficulty climbing stairs, seeing in dim light or making minor repairs.

Modifications can range from simply cleaning a home of clutter, improving lighting or installing ramps, to making a bathroom wheelchair-accessible.

Home modification is one of the top five reasons that people contact the Eldercare Locator.

"The home modification program provided by Area Agencies on Aging and others help older adults continue to be active and engaged in their communities - in part because they live safely in their homes, which is where we know they want to be," said Sandy Markwood, n4a CEO.

To contact the Elder Locator, call 1-800-677-1116 or visit

eldercarelocator@n4a.org.

More than 70 organizations that deal with aging issues have united to urge Congress to prevent scheduled Medicare prescription drug cost increases and extend protections for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

Under Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drug costs, once a certain monetary level has been reached, beneficiaries can access catastrophic coverage for drugs to reduce their costs. But, for the coming year, the threshold is going to jump by $1,250 affecting some one million Medicare patients. Nationally, this would represent an additional $2 billion in out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.

The groups are also calling for more low-income Medicare beneficiaries to be enrolled into programs that assist with prescription and other health care costs and modernize and simplify enrollment in Medicare Part B.

For more information, visit ncoa.org.

KNOWING PARKINSON'S

Close to 50% of people diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and their care partner's leave their doctor's office with no substantial information as to what they can expect as their condition progresses.

"Early in my diagnosis with Young Onset Parkinson's, I realized that I couldn't find all of the answers I was looking for," said Christina Korines, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 33.

To fill this gap, the Parkinson's Foundation is developing a campaign that will help the some 60,000 people, who are newly diagnosed, with the knowledge, tools and resources to deal with the challenges this illness brings.

According to the Parkinson's Foundation, this is "the first national campaign ever launched to specifically target the needs and priorities for people newly diagnosed with PD."

"Our goal is to empower everyone new to our community to build a better life with Parkinson's from day one while addressing their unmet needs," said John L. Lehr, president and CEO of the Parkinson's Foundation.

For additional information, visit parkinson.org.

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