Senior Health

Veterans Journal: Long-term care benefits for veterans protect your retirement

Published by George W. Reilly in Providence Journal

 

A long-term care event for a veteran or any adult can happen at any age, and the potential financial and emotional strain that comes with it can have an impact on you, your family and your loved ones.

Did you know millions of Americans require long-term care during their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes the need for either cognitive or physical assistance with everyday tasks such as bathing, eating and dressing.

Unfortunately, traditional health insurance, including TRICARE or TRICARE for Life, does not pay for the chronic, ongoing assistance with daily living that is most often associated with long-term care.

As a member of the armed services, you are entitled to apply for benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, although several factors come into play when determining eligibility. For this reason, and to ensure you are prepared for any situation, it is important to understand how VA benefits work so you can form a clear understanding of your traditional health-care benefits as well as what a long-term care event might mean for retirement planning.

The VA health benefits program provides coverage for long-term care, but you must qualify for the program. The VA determines the number of veterans who can be enrolled in the program based on congressional funding allocated each year. Due to the limited availability of enrollments, the VA has established eight separate priority groups (see VA Health Care Eligibility online at www.military.com/benefits/veterans-health-care/va-health-care-eligibility.html) to categorize enrollees and determine the level of benefits they are entitled to or whether the potential enrollee is eligible at all.

Eligibility to receive long-term care benefits depends on many factors, including service-connected disability status (70 percent or greater — see the VA’s Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents, and Survivors online at https://bit.ly/2zcGyLv), current income levels, and even your ability to contribute to the cost of care.

Members of the uniformed services seeking long-term care benefits may find they are unable to meet the VA’s eligibility criteria. Long-term care can be expensive, and service members often rely on the VA to cover the associated costs. Depending on your eligibility status in the VA benefits program, the level of coverage available to you may not be enough. For this reason, you may want to consider applying for standalone long-term care insurance like the plan offered through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program at https://bit.ly/2tUYTau.

FLTCIP provides long-term care insurance for enrollees who are federal and U.S. Postal Service employees and annuitants, active and retired members of the uniformed services, and their qualified relatives.

With benefits designed specifically for active and retired members of the uniformed services since 2002, the FLTCIP offers a good way to help protect your savings and assets should you or your loved ones need long-term care. Designed to provide solutions for a range of financial situations, this employer-sponsored program has grown to be the most successful and used program of its kind, providing comprehensive coverage for more than 270,000 people.

Certain family members, or qualified relatives, are also eligible to apply even if the veteran does not. Qualified relatives include spouse, domestic partner, parents, parents-in-law and adult children.

To learn more about the FLTCIP’s benefits and features or to find the average long-term care costs in your geographic area, visit online at LTCFEDS.com. Certain medical conditions or combinations of conditions will prevent some people from being approved for coverage. You need to apply to find out if you qualify for coverage.

The Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program is sponsored by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, insured by John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Company and administered by Long Term Care Partners, LLC.

For personalized assistance, call (800) 582-3337 or TTY (800) 843-3557 to speak or interact with a program consultant available to answer any questions and provide step-by-step information on plan design and the application process.

 

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Tips to cope when you’re juggling several chronic health issues

Be proactive by learning about and tracking your conditions and medications, and by speaking up when you have concerns.

Published in Harvard Health Letter

We don’t want our golden years to be spent juggling a long list of health issues. But that’s the reality for most older adults in the United States.

The CDC reports that 75% of Americans ages 65 or older have several chronic health problems. And a 2013 analysis of Medicare claims published online by Preventing Chronic Disease found that 68% of beneficiaries had two or more chronic conditions and 36% had at least four.

“Having multiple chronic diseases is common because people are living longer. The older we are, the more chronic diseases we accumulate,” says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, associate chief of gerontology at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The challenges

Advances in medicine have improved treatment for many diseases and lengthened life. But those same advances mean that today’s medical care often involves seeing more types of doctors, having more tests, and getting more treatments than in earlier times. In other words, medical care in our golden years is better, but also more complicated.

“People take more medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, to manage these conditions. That’s because there are more effective medicines now than there used to be. However, medications can interfere with each other,” Dr. Salamon explains. In addition, treatment for one problem may make another problem worse. “For example, if you have high blood pressure and a history of falls, and lowering your blood pressure makes you feel lightheaded, your fall risk will increase,” says Dr. Erin Stevens, a geriatrician and palliative care physician at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Doctors do their best to avoid prescribing medicines that are likely to cause problems, but the risk cannot be perfectly predicted. Bad things that are unlikely still can happen. “Another problem is that people get tired of taking medications, or find them too expensive — and so they don’t take them. This can lead to problems of untreated hypertension, diabetes, and other conditions,” Dr. Salamon explains.

Why do we accumulate chronic conditions?

Many factors play a role in the accumulation of health problems. Most diseases involve a combination of genetics and lifestyle. Being born with certain genes can make you more vulnerable than other people to certain diseases. An unhealthy lifestyle can further increase the risk.

Some genes, and some lifestyle factors, influence the risk for multiple diseases. And having one disease can increase your risk for another. “One disease can affect an organ system which then affects another. For example, diabetes can damage nerves, which can lead to loss of sensation in the extremities, which can lead to imbalance, a fall, and disability,” explains Dr. Erin Stevens, a geriatrician and palliative care physician at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Or you may have high blood pressure that damages blood vessels, which leads to a stroke.

And sometimes health conditions just go hand in hand, and we don’t know why. For example, depression often accompanies heart disease, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease. Autoimmune diseases also can run in clusters. “So if you have thyroid disease, you may be predisposed to another autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis,” Dr. Stevens says.

Taking back control

To avoid missteps, be proactive in your health care with these strategies.

Get educated about your conditions. Talk with your doctor about what you can do (like exercise or eat a healthy diet) to take to control of any conditions you already have and to prevent conditions you worry about getting.

Become a medication expert. Find out what each of your medications does, why you need it, what side effects you should particularly watch for, and how it may interact with other drugs. You can get such information from your pharmacist or from online sources (such as the AARP website).

If you see many doctors, be sure each of them knows what medicines the other doctors have prescribed (they will, if they are all part of a hospital or health care system that shares electronic health records).

To be safe, Dr. Stevens recommends bringing all of your medications to each doctor appointment, including over-the-counter pills. “Then we can be sure the medication list on the computer matches the pills and doses that you’re taking,” Dr. Salamon says.

Keep track of your symptoms and treatments. If you’re having symptoms you think may be side effects of a medicine or an adverse interaction between drugs, use a notebook or a computer to record when you take medications, when symptoms develop, and how long the symptoms last.

Get a good CEO. Just as a corporation needs a chief executive officer to oversee its many departments, you may need a primary care physician to look at the big picture and help you make sure treatment for numerous conditions is well coordinated.

Consider palliative care. It’s a misconception that palliative care is only for the end of life. When you have serious degenerative illness — like heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, or a breathing disorder — your quality of life suffers. A palliative care physician can help you manage those conditions, maximize your function, and preserve as much quality of life as possible. “We want to meet people early on, not in crisis mode,” Dr. Stevens says. “Maybe we can prevent a fall or address pain. We can talk about what to expect, so when something happens over time, it won’t be a surprise.”

Be your own advocate. Finally, remember that no one understands how you’re feeling better than you do. Ask questions about your treatment, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re having trouble managing your conditions or if you’re concerned about the way your doctors are doing the job.

 

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How will population ageing affect future end of life care?

By Anna Bone

Increasing population ageing means that deaths worldwide are expected to rise by 13 million to 70 million per year in the next 15 years. As a result, there is an urgent need to plan ahead to ensure we meet the growing end of life care needs of our population in the future.

Understanding where people die, and how this could change in the future, is vital to ensuring that health services are equipped to support people’s needs and preferences at the end of life. As researchers at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London, we investigated trends in place of death in England and Wales, and found that deaths occurring in care homes could more than double in the next 25 years if recent trends continue.

Using official records on over five and a half million deaths, as well as population forecasts, we estimated the number of people who will die in a range of different settings in years to come. The intention behind this study is that it will help to guide future planning of health and social care. From 2004 to 2014, the proportion of deaths occurring in care homes increased from 17% to 21%, with numbers rising from 85,000 to 106,000 per year. If this trend continues, the number of people dying in care homes will double to over 220,000 per year by 2040, and care homes will overtake hospitals as the most common place to die. Home deaths are also projected to increase over this period to over 216,000 deaths a year. Together, this means that deaths in the community are expected to account for over two-thirds of all deaths by 2040.

We also know that, increasingly, people are living and dying with multiple illnesses and frailty, which adds complexity to their care needs. The rising number of people with complex illness in the community is a challenge for end of life care. A recent study has shown that palliative care needs are expected to increase by 42% by the year 2040. We need greater integration of specialist palliative care into primary care services, as well as more training in palliative care for general health professionals, to ensure that those with palliative care needs can access services they require.

The projected rise of deaths in care homes and in peoples’ own homes is striking. We must ask care home and community services whether they are equipped to both support such an increase in demand and provide high quality end of life care. How can we provide the workforce needed to care for this growing patient group? To enable people to die in their preferred place in future, we need to ensure adequate bed capacity, resources, and training of staff in palliative and end of life care in all care homes in the country. These projections warn of the urgent need to invest more in care homes and community health services. Without this investment, people are likely to seek help from hospitals, which puts pressure on an already strained system and is not where most people would prefer to be at the end of their lives.

The time has come to test new approaches to care in order to ensure that we address this growing need of our population in the years to come. There are promising examples of innovations in care to increase the reach of palliative care services in community settings, for example project ECHO, which facilitates knowledge-sharing between specialist palliative care services, such as hospices, and general health care professionals such as those in care homes. In an era of increasing need alongside constrained health and social care budgets, developing and testing innovative ways to provide high quality care with minimal resources is imperative.

In the words of Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, “how people die remains in the memory of those who live on.”The inevitable population changes described here will affect all of us, directly or indirectly, in the years to come. It is time for us as a society to have an open discussion about how we want health services to be delivered to people towards the end of life. Crucially, we need better evidence on how we can best support a growing number of older people as they reach the end of their lives.

Anna Bone is a PhD Training Fellow at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London. The themes from this blog post come from The Changing Face of Volunteering in Hospice and Palliative Care, published by Oxford University Press.

 

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Advance Care Planning: Reminder for YOU to Have the Conversation

By Cozzie M. King, National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care

The scenario generally plays out the same. A person becomes ill…too ill to make decisions for themselves…too ill to communicate with the attending medical staff. Nearby family rush to the hospital bedside. The physician explains what’s happening to the family. Things aren’t looking good or the medical terminology is not easy to understand. After some time, the family is left to make decisions for their seriously ill loved one. Decisions that have not been discussed or thought about prior to this point. What do we do? Who has the final say? Things normally go downhill from here. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Medical staff dread it. No one wins. Making healthcare decision at the hospital bedside is not the right time. These conversations need to happen before the crisis, not during.

Speak Up

As a mom, sister, daughter, past and future caregiver, I understand the importance of having conversations about my future healthcare decisions with my family and friends. These conversations can be hard to begin. However, there are many resources, tools and games that help families have these talks in creative ways. Over the years, I have facilitated several talks on how to plan and communicate your future healthcare decisions.  One of my personal favorite resources is the Speak Up video. This video is one of the tools I consistently use when explaining why it’s so important to have the conversation and complete an advance directive.  I encourage you to post and share this video with your family and friends on Facebook. They’ll thank you later. The message is short and simple.  Check it out:

Click to watch NHDD Speak Up Video

As we advocate for more families to participate in advance care planning, keep it simple. I remind my family and friends that advance care planning is much more than completing a form. It really is more about the conversations you have before and after any document is completed.

Lead By Example

April 16th is National Health Care Decisions Day (NHDD) and this year’s theme is, “It always seems too early, until it’s too late.” NHDD is a call to action for EVERYONE to:

→Think about your beliefs and values,
→Write them down,
→Choose a healthcare proxy (someone who speaks for you if you are not able),
→Complete an advance directive, and
→Share with your healthcare proxy, family and doctors.

The purpose of NHDD is to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning – and most importantly, to encourage people to express their wishes regarding healthcare and for providers and health care organizations to respect those wishes, whatever they may be. As someone in the health care field,  be sure to complete your advance directive and encourage your colleagues and loved ones to do the same. Practice what you preach. Read related story in TMC News

 

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Another Reason to Avoid Heavy Drinking? Dementia

Dr. Arefa Cassoobhoy, a practicing internist, Medscape advisor, and senior medical director for WebMD in a recent Medscape Morning Report 1-minute news story for primary care, reported that heavy drinking can lead to many health issues. 

Dr. Cassoobhoy shared a new study[1] that looks at alcohol use and dementia. The French observational study included over 1 million adults diagnosed with dementia between 2008 and 2013. It found that of 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia, 39% were due to an alcohol-related condition like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, liver disease, epilepsy, or head injury. And 18% had an additional diagnosis of alcohol-use disorder.

Overall, alcohol-use disorders were associated with a three-times greater risk for all types of dementia.

The researchers concluded that heavy drinking is the strongest modifiable risk factor for dementia. Dr. Cassoobhoy says this should motivate us to focus on early screening, brief interventions, and treatment to help our patients.

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Waiting Rooms Encouraged to Show Video with New Medicare Cards

Click for new video featuring the replacement IDs

Originally published in AARP’s Health Medicare Resource Center By Dena Bunis, AARP, March 2018

Medicare is asking doctors to play a new video in their waiting rooms to remind patients that the federal government will begin mailing them new identification cards next month.

The video gives beneficiaries a glimpse at what the new card will look like and explains why and how it was modified. Instead of a Social Security number, the cards will display an 11-digit Medicare beneficiary identifier, and they will no longer include gender and a signature.

Eliminating the personal details, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials say, will better protect an enrollee’s identity and guard against fraud.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) urges Medicare enrollees to make sure the agency has their correct address on file. You can go to socialsecurity.gov/myaccount or call 800-772-1213 to update your address.

Scammers with various ploys have already started to target the 58 million individuals who will be getting new cards. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that con artists are calling beneficiaries and pretending to be from Medicare, then trying to talk them into paying for the revised card. Medicare will never call and ask for any personal identification or money for the new cards. The cards are free and will be mailed to members’ homes.

Medicare beneficiaries in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia will be the first enrollees to receive the replacement cards. The mailings will continue through 2019.

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Family is biggest influencer of older adult housing and care preferences: study

Author: Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor, McKnight’s Senior Living

Family support is the biggest influencer of housing and care preferences among older adults, according to a study published Wednesday (March 7, 2018) in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Often, the authors found, older adults changed their preferences based on the concerns of family members or a wish to avoid “being a burden” to others. This basis was especially true for preferences regarding the places where people wished to receive care — for example, at home or in a residential care setting, they said.

The researchers, all of whom were affiliated with the Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care Policy and Rehabilitation at Kings College London, examined 57 previous studies about the preferences of older adults with advanced illness. They included research that investigated preferences for where people wanted to be cared for, the kinds of communication and decision-making they wanted and the quality of life they hoped to have over time.

Family involvement is key in care decisions

Although support from family was the most important influence on their care preferences, older adults usually formed their preferences based on several other factors, too, including their experiences related to previous illness and caring for others as well as having a serious illness, according to the study.

 

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Report: Senior Health Care Misses the Mark

Report Details Senior Health Care That Misses The Mark

By Michelle Andrews

Quality over quantity. As people get older, their health care goals may shift away from living as long as possible to maintaining a good quality of life. In key areas, however, the medical treatment older people receive often doesn’t reflect this change, according to a new study.

The wide-ranging report from the Dartmouth Atlas Project uses Medicare claims data to examine aging Americans’ health care. Among other things, it identified five key areas where too many older people continue to receive treatments that don’t meet established guidelines or, often, their own goals and preferences.

Two of the five have to do with preventive care that may not benefit seniors: screening for breast and prostate cancer. The other three address care at the end of life: late referral to hospice care, time in the intensive care unit in the last six months of life and placing feeding tubes in patients with dementia.

While the measures themselves are quite different, they each highlight the need for better communication and shared decision-making among patients, their families and their medical providers.

“Where there are harms and benefits and people judge them differently, that’s where the shared decision-making comes in,” said Dr. Julie Bynum, an associate professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Lebanon, N.H.

Despite the simplicity of a mammogram or a blood test to check for prostate cancer, if the screening is positive for cancer, that can set off a cascade of further testing and treatment. Those efforts could cause harm to older patients, whose health may be fragile or who have multiple medical conditions.

In addition, older people may well die from something else before a cancer progresses, said Dr. Richard Wender, chief cancer control officer at the American Cancer Society.

“The single hardest concept for the public to understand is the natural history of finding a cancer through a screening process,” Wender said. “Many people have the sense that had it not been found that cancer would have threatened their life within a couple of years or maybe even a couple of months.”

Experts have cautioned older patients about both tests. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel that weighs evidence and makes recommendations about prevention services, has concluded that prostate cancer screening isn’t beneficial at any age and said that there’s not enough evidence to know whether women benefit or risk harm by undergoing breast cancer screening after age 74.

Medical treatment older people receive often doesn’t reflect their wishes.

Still, the Dartmouth Atlas analysis found that 20 percent of male Medicare beneficiaries age 75 and older got a PSA test to screen for prostate cancer in 2012, and 24 percent of female beneficiaries that age had a mammogram to screen for breast cancer that year.

We Need To Make Decisions Based On The Patient’s Values

Guidelines aside, clinicians and their patients need to discuss the pros and cons of testing and make a decision based on the patient’s values and preferences, experts say.

For example, a 75-year-old woman who is willing to accept that she might actually die of breast cancer within 10 years but wants to avoid the anxiety and harms of treatment, might choose not to be tested.

“I ask people, ‘Do you think you’re going to be around in 10 years? Help me decide’ whether to order a mammogram,” said Bynum, whose work focuses on geriatrics.

As people near the end of their lives, it’s especially important for patients and their family members to discuss their goals and wishes with clinicians. Patients often want to be kept comfortable rather than undergo medical interventions, but physicians and nurses are still trained to do everything possible to prevent death, said Dr. Diane Meier, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care and professor of geriatrics at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York.

The three end-of-life criteria that the Dartmouth researchers cited are areas that geriatrics experts agree are critical but have proven difficult to get providers, health systems and the general public to accept, said Bynum. Late referral to hospice and spending time in a hospital intensive care unit can adversely affect terminal patients’ health, result in higher costs and run counter to their hope for a peaceful death. Feeding tubes in patients with advanced dementia can lead to other complications.

Lost Opportunity: Hospice Comfort Care Services That Are Available For Months Are Not Utilized

The Dartmouth study found that in 2012, 17 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who died were enrolled in hospice only during the last three days of life. Medicare, however, will approve hospice benefits, which generally include comfort care rather than curative treatment, when the physician certifies that someone is expected to live for no more than six months.

The study also found that people spent an average of nearly four days in intensive care during the last six months of life, a figure that is trending upward.

Finally, even though it doesn’t prolong their lives to place feeding tubes in patients with dementia, who naturally lose interest in food and their ability to swallow in the final stages of the disease, 6 percent of Medicare beneficiaries with dementia received them in their last six months of life in 2012.

Communication is key, but the skills that are needed to counsel patients aren’t being taught, said Meier.

“If you unleash an oncologist who does not know how to say, ‘Your cancer has progressed,’ but they know how to say, “I know what we can try,’ that’s why people end up in the ICU and with feeding tubes” at the end of life, she said. “It’s easier than having a difficult conversation.”

Please contact Kaiser Health News to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

KHN’s coverage of aging and long term care issues is supported in part by a grant from The SCAN Foundation.

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