Social workers can now earn continuing education hours while they learn Medicare at their own pace, anytime and anywhere with Medicare Interactive (MI) Pro, an online Medicare curriculum powered by the Medicare Rights Center.
MI Pro provides the information that social workers and health professionals need to become “Medicare smart,” so they can help their clients navigate the Medicare maze. The online curriculum contains information on the rules and regulations regarding Medicare—from Medicare coverage options and coordination of benefits to the appeals process and assistance programs for clients with low incomes.
“For over 25 years, social workers have been turning to Medicare Rights’ helpline counselors for clear and concise information on how to help their clients access the affordable health care that they need,” said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center. “Now social workers can enroll in MI Pro and learn—or enhance—their Medicare knowledge at their convenience while fulfilling their continuing education requirements.”
The Medicare Rights Center, a national nonprofit consumer service organization, is the largest and most reliable independent source of Medicare information and assistance in the United States.
Licensed Master Social Workers and Licensed Clinical Social Workers can earn continuing education hours when they successfully complete any of the four MI Pro programs: Medicare Basics; Medicare Coverage Rules; Medicare Appeals and Penalties; and Medicare, Other Insurance, and Assistance Programs. Each MI Pro program is comprised of four to five course modules.
All MI Pro programs are active for one year following registration.
MI Pro courses are nominally priced. Additionally, social workers who purchase all four programs at once will receive an automatic 20 percent discount.
Medicare Rights Center is a national, nonprofit consumer service organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities through counseling and advocacy, educational programs, and public policy initiatives.
Available only through the Medicare Rights Center, Medicare Interactive (MI) is a free and independent online reference tool that provides easy-to-understand answers to questions posed by people with Medicare, their families and caregivers, and the professionals serving them. Find your Medicare answers at www.medicareinteractive.org.
Loneliness Found to Be High in Public Senior Housing Communities
Older adults living in public senior housing communities experience a large degree of loneliness, finds a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.
Nevertheless, senior housing communities may be ideal locations for reducing that loneliness, the study finds.
“There are many studies on loneliness among community-dwelling older adults; however, there is limited research examining the extent and correlates of loneliness among older adults who reside in senior housing communities,” wrote Harry Chatters Taylor, doctoral student at the Brown School and lead author of “Loneliness in Senior Housing Communities,” published in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work.
The study was co-authored by Yi Wang, doctoral student at the Brown School, and Nancy Morrow-Howell, the Bettie Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy and the director of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging.
The study examines the extent of loneliness in three public senior housing communities in the St. Louis area. Two of the three complexes were in urban neighborhoods, and the last was located in a suburban neighborhood. All were publicly funded under Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program. Data for the project was collected with survey questionnaires with a total sample size of 148 respondents. Loneliness was measured using the Hughes 3-item loneliness scale. Additionally, the questionnaire contained measures on socio-demographics, health/mental health, social engagement and social support.
Results showed approximately 30.8 percent of the sample was not lonely; 42.7 percent was moderately lonely, and 26.6 percent was severely lonely. In analyzing the data, researchers found loneliness was primarily associated with depressive symptoms.
“We speculate that loneliness may be higher in senior housing communities for a few important reasons,” Taylor said. “The first is older adults residing in senior housing communities often have greater risk for loneliness. In order to qualify to live in these senior housing communities, older adults must have a low income, and having a lower income is a risk factor for loneliness.
“Additionally, most of the residents we interviewed identified their marital status as single, which is another risk factor for greater loneliness. Many older adults living in senior housing communities also have greater health and mental health vulnerabilities, which increases the likelihood that an older adult will experience loneliness.”
Despite all that, the study finds, senior housing communities may be better suited to combat loneliness than traditional residential homes.
“We believe that senior housing communities could become ideal locations for reducing loneliness among older adults,” Taylor said. “Senior housing communities are embedded in communities with peers who may have similar age and life experiences. There are occasional activities and support from senior housing management to encourage the building of friendships, bonds and social support among senior housing residents.
“Most senior housing communities also have a common space or multipurpose room available for use, which can also help facilitate building bonds between residents. Senior housing communities are frequently located close to public transportation, which provides access to transportation for residents without automobiles.”
Still, loneliness is frequently a stigmatized condition, he said.
“We often do not like to talk about our feelings of loneliness,” Taylor said. “For practitioners, it is important to be patient when working with older adults, and it could take a while for an older adult, regardless if they reside in a senior housing facility, to admit they are feeling lonely.
“Whether you are a child, relative or family member to an older adult, or provide services to older adults, be patient when discussing issues of loneliness and mental health with older adults.”
Medicare For All – Protection for Your Retirement Plans
An unexpected medical emergency, a life-changing diagnosis, or a car accident are a number of countless situations that can land us in the emergency room, setting off a chain reaction of diagnostic tests, follow-up appointments, prescriptions, treatments, and more. Of course, this all has a significant implication on your pocketbook, and even if you have insurance, the bills can still be staggering.
Health insurance is supposed to be an investment, a sort of safety net to minimize your financial obligations in the event of a significant health illness or injury. But rising premiums, high deductible plans, and coverage exclusions have rendered comprehensive, quality, affordable insurance plans a thing of the past.
This can have significant implications for older adults nearing or at retirement age. A car accident, a cancer diagnosis, or any number of other health issues can quickly drain away savings, including retirement plans.
Health Care Costs Threaten Retirement Plans
Amassing a retirement savings large enough to provide a comfortable living for decades is no small feat. Because seniors tend to see increased health issues and health care costs in their latter years of life, a significant portion of their retirement plan needs to be able to cover those increased costs.
According to a study performed by Fidelity, a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2017 will need to cover approximately $275,000 in health care costs throughout their retirement. That amount reflects a 6% increase over the 2016 figure of $260,000. However, that estimate has increased more than 70% when compared with the initial estimate ever performed by Fidelity back in 2002.
Simply saving up enough money to be able to retire can be a challenge, especially when you encounter unexpected health issues and emergencies earlier on in life. According to a survey by Bankrate, only 41% of adults say that they have enough money in savings to be able to pay off an unexpected cost. However, 45% of survey respondents indicated that they’d had a major unexpected expense in the past 12 months.
And if a family has a high-deductible insurance plan, a single visit to the ER can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Families without adequate savings may feel pressured to reach into retirement savings to fund the emergency, leaving them with even less savings than they’d had initially.
A Compounding Problem
The issue of health care costs depleting retirement savings becomes even more urgent when you consider the seniors who can’t afford to retire at all. The U.S. Jobs Report indicated that the retirement age is increasing, with almost 19% of United States seniors aged 65 or older were working at least part time during the second quarter of 2017. Additionally, 19% of 70- to 74-year-olds were still working.
Working later into life leads to increased retirement savings, but this isn’t a practical option for many seniors. Health issues force many seniors to quit their jobs even if their retirement savings aren’t yet large enough to provide them with long-term security.
Simply finding a job can be a challenge, since employers may be more reluctant to hire seniors (despite age discrimination laws). Seniors may find themselves with fewer job options and may have to settle for lower-paying jobs with poor health insurance policy offerings.
Medicare for All: Protecting Retirement Savings
Medicare for All could be a solution to this growing problem. With single-payer health care, all Americans could enjoy protection against unexpected large medical bills. Americans wouldn’t need to dip into their retirement savings for health-related emergencies. And with reduced health care costs, they could put more earnings into their retirement plans.
If more Americans were able to put aside more retirement savings, they could retire at age 65 without having to worry about extending their employment into their senior years. They could enjoy reduced stress and could focus on healing after a health crisis, rather than worrying about the massive bills that would follow.
With access to the medications and treatments that they need, Americans could enjoy better health, happiness, and an improved quality of life. Isn’t that what we want for our seniors, our retirees, and all American citizens?
The Critical Role of Caregivers, and What they Need from Us
Caring for loved ones who have aged or become disabled is not a new concept. Many of the services provided in hospitals, clinics and even funeral homes were once provided by families at home. Particularly in communities where traditional cultural beliefs are highly valued, taking care of an aging parent or grandparent is still a responsibility that families (usually women) are expected to take upon themselves. Inner discord can arise when caregivers challenge these traditions which can lead to guilt and in some cases lawsuits.
For example, proceedings from a roundtable hosted by the National Hispanic Council on Aging revealed that caregiver stigma is prevalent among Latinos, which can prevent them from seeking support and resources. Without help, the risk for burnout increases.
Results from a 2015 study by the National Alliance for Family Caregiving and AARP revealed that “an estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months”. This number is likely to increase in the coming years due, in part, to an aging population.
Family caregivers perform a variety of services, including helping with ADLs, dispensing medications, managing finances, attending doctor appointments and advocating. Many do so while maintaining full-time employment outside of the home.
Respite is Essential, but lacking
The physical cost of caregiving is staggering, and there are few opportunities for respite. Even when respite is available, caregivers must consider the care recipients’ safety, and their desire to leave home. A person who has a disability or is ill can still make decisions regarding their care. So when they say no to respite care, it can’t be forced upon them. Desperate for a break, some caregivers have gone to extreme measures such as dropping off their loved one at the emergency room for respite. This is a problem that should be addressed in the years to come. But how?
Changes in the workplace
More companies and organizations are beginning to understand that caregiving without support can negatively impact worker productivity. In response, some companies have revisited their policies regarding family leave, allowing flexible work schedules and work from home opportunities. As employers seek new talent, they may find that policies such as these are attractive to job seekers. Two major companies, Deloitte and Microsoft, made headlines after incorporating paid time into their family leave policies. Other companies have adopted similar models.
As the nation grapples with how to provide better support to caregivers, it will need to improve major areas like extending paid leave to family caregivers, creating financial stability for those who need to provide full time care, and providing necessary training and respite to ensure the mental and physical well being for both the caregiver and the recipient. These changes require a shift in how we think about providing care, and changes in policy.
Caregivers are operating on tight schedules and don’t always have time to attend in person support groups. So having the option of connecting with others through online chats and support groups is more convenient for some caregivers. In addition, they could benefit from ongoing training and resources that will help them to more effectively and safely care for their loved one. This past September, the U.S. Senate passed the RAISE Act, which would require the development of a national strategy to address the growing challenges and economic impact of caregiving. The bill must now go before the House of Representatives.
The financial costs of caregiving cannot be ignored, and the average social security beneficiary does not earn enough to shoulder the burden of the financial costs they incur. Most caregivers likely work not only to maintain a sense of identity but also out of necessity.
Caregivers can face stressful decisions when it comes to choosing between work and providing care, particularly when their loved one is seriously or terminally ill. Too often, relatives are not eligible to be a paid for their time. And when they are, the earnings are not enough to make ends meet. Unfortunately, many caregivers often place their loved ones in skilled nursing facilities, simply because they cannot afford to care for them at home.
The question of who should provide care and how they will provide is one that has yet to be answered. While they wait, however, caregivers are facing stress and financial burden with few desirable options for support. And care recipients aren’t getting the care they so desperately need.
AARP Applauds Unanimous Senate Passage of RAISE Family Caregivers Act
AARP applauds the unanimous passage in the U.S. Senate of the bipartisan Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act (S. 1028).
The legislation, introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), calls for the development of a strategy to support the nation’s 40 million family caregivers. It would bring together stakeholders from the private and public sectors to recommend actions that communities, providers, government, and others are taking and may take to help make the big responsibilities of caregiving a little bit easier.
It would bring together stakeholders from the private and public sectors to recommend actions that communities, providers, government, and others are taking and may take to help make the big responsibilities of caregiving a little bit easier.
Every day, millions of Americans are caring for parents, spouses, children and adults with disabilities and other loved ones so they can live independently in their homes and communities for as long as possible. They take on a range of tasks including managing medications, helping with bathing and dressing, preparing and feeding meals, arranging transportation, and handling financial and legal matters. The unpaid care family caregivers provide helps delay or prevent costly nursing home care, which is often paid for by Medicaid.
“Family caregivers are the backbone of our care system in America. We need to make it easier for them to coordinate care for their loved ones, get information and resources and take a break so they can rest and recharge,” said AARP Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy A. LeaMond. “Thanks to the efforts of long-time champions of the bill Senators Susan Collins and Tammy Baldwin, we are one step closer to helping address the challenges family caregivers face.” AARP is working to bolster bipartisan support for the RAISE Family Caregivers Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill (H.R. 3759) was introduced by Representatives Gregg Harper (R-MS) and Kathy Castor (D-FL), along with original cosponsors Representatives Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY). The RAISE Family Caregivers Act has the support of about 60 national organizations.
For more information and to track this bill visit Congress.gov.
Child Welfare System Increasingly Relying on Relatives to Raise Children Exposed to Trauma
According to a new report by Generations United, grandparents and other relatives who step in to care for children, play an important role in mitigating trauma, which children in the child welfare system experience at starkly higher rates than the general population.
Thirty percent (127,819) of children in foster care are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, a six percent increase since 2008. In the wake of the opioid epidemic, that number is even more dramatic in the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic like Ohio, which saw a 62 percent increase in the number of children placed with relatives in foster care since 2010. For each child in foster care with a relative, there are 20 children outside of the system with a relative.
More than half of the children in the child welfare system have endured four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), leaving them 12 times more likely to have negative health outcomes – substance use disorders, mental health problems, and engaging in aggressive or risky behaviors – than the general child population.
“Growing up with a childhood full of trauma and abuse, there were very few moments where I felt safe and very few people with whom I felt protected. Being put into my uncle’s care was the best decision that could have ever been made for me,” explained Kindra, whose last name is withheld to protect her privacy. “It wasn’t an easy road by any means, but I have no doubt in that it completely saved my life.”
Compared to those in care with non-relatives, children in foster care with relatives have more stable and safe childhoods and a greater likelihood of having a permanent home. The have better mental and behavioral health, and are more likely to report always feeling loved.
“These relatives are the loving and protective arms for babies, children and youth who’ve experience trauma,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United. “They are caring for children with multiple high-level needs and they should get the support required for the families to thrive.”
Unlike parents or foster parents who plan for months or years to care for a child, grandparents or other relative caregivers usually step into their roles unexpectedly. At a moment’s notice, they are forced to navigate complex systems to help meet the physical and cognitive health challenges of the children who come into their care. Grandfamilies are less likely than foster families to have access to specialized training and support from professionals that have expertise in helping children, who have experienced trauma, heal.
“One thing I know to be true: you can’t love away the effects of trauma from neglect and abuse,” said Jan Wagner, grandparent caregiver, Michigan. “Our children need the same amount of intensive therapy and services as a traditional foster placement and we, as their caregiver desperately need the same to help them heal.”
Among the report’s recommendations:
- Reform federal child welfare financing to provide more trauma-informed support to prevent children from entering or re-entering foster care
- Increase availability of and access to trauma training and supports designed for grandfamilies
- Address barriers to licensing relatives as foster parents
- Ensure grandfamilies not licensed as foster parents can access financial assistance to meet children’s needs
Generations United will release The 2017 State of Grandfamilies in America report Sept. 13 at a reception, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, in room G-11 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Generations United will honor Senator Susan Collins (Maine) and Senator Bob Casey (Pennsylvania)with its 2017 Grandfamilies Champion Awards at the event.
Stressed Out Caregivers Are Using ER Visits for Respite, Study Finds
Emergency room staff call it a “pop drop” – when a disabled older person comes in for medical attention, but it seems like the person who takes care of them at home is also seeking a break from the demands of caregiving.
It’s been hard to actually study the phenomenon. A new University of Michigan study suggests that tired family caregivers are associated with greater ER visits and higher overall health care costs for the person they care for.
In a paper in the new issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the team reports their findings from a study of 3,101 couples over the age of 65, each with one spouse acting as caregiver for their disabled partner.
The researchers looked at the Medicare payments and emergency department visits for the disabled spouses in the six months after the caregiver spouses took standard tests to measure their fatigue, mood, sleep habits, health and happiness.
Even after they took into account many factors, the researchers found that in just those six months, emergency department visits were 23 percent higher among patients whose caregivers had scored high for fatigue or low on their own health status.
Patients with fatigued or sad caregivers also had higher Medicare costs in that same time period: $1,900 more if the caregiver scored high for fatigue, and $1,300 more if the caregiver scored high for sadness, even after all other factors were taken into account.
The cost of unpaid help
“Many of us who work in clinical settings feel that patients with high home caregiving needs, such as dementia, often rely on the medical system as a source of respite for their spouses or other caregivers, because other respite isn’t paid for,” says lead author Claire Ankuda, M.D., M.P.H. “But there hasn’t been a lot of data about it, and only recently has our society been talking about caregivers and potential ways to incentivize and support them as a way of keeping patients living at home.”
Ankuda, who led the study during her time at in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program at U-M’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, is now training in palliative care at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“Informal caregivers, including spouses, enable older adults with functional disability to stay out of the nursing home and live at home where they’d prefer to be,” says senior author Deborah Levine, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of internal medicine and neurology at U-M.
“We need to do a better job of identifying and supporting caregivers experiencing distress, in order to help caregivers feel better and hopefully improve outcomes in older adults with disability.” Deborah Levine, M.D., M.P.H.
Long-term data gives key insights
The couples in the study were all taking part in the long-term Health and Retirement Study, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research on behalf of the National Institutes of Health. Ankuda, Levine and their colleagues probed HRS data because it allowed them to correct for factors that other, short-term studies can’t – such as the baseline level of Medicare costs, demographic differences including income and education, and even whether the couples have adult children living nearby.
The findings add hard new data about the link between caregivers’ own experiences and the amount the Medicare system pays to take care of those the caregivers take care of at home.
Nearly 15 million older adults get help with everyday activities from spouses and other family or friend caregivers. In the new study, the researchers included couples where one spouse got help from the other with activities such as bathing, dressing, walking, getting into or out of bed, shopping, cooking, and taking medications.
Helping with these tasks on a daily basis, without pay or respite, can take a toll on the caregiver’s own health, wellness and mental state – which can lead to burnout. Medicare does not offer payment or formal respite coverage for family or friends who take regular care of older adults – and only covers home care by certified agencies under certain circumstances.
More research & services needed
Ankuda notes that studies on the impact of supporting family caregivers more formally are just beginning to produce results.
Meanwhile, health policy researchers are beginning to suggest that it may make fiscal sense to incentivize home caregiving, to keep seniors from needing more expensive nursing home care.
“I definitely think there are specific services that could help caregivers, if we can identify those people who are highest risk and provide a basic level of support such as an around-the-clock geriatric care call line that could help caregivers feel less isolated and talk to a nurse about whether, for example, to go to the emergency department,” Ankuda says. “This is a high-cost, vulnerable population.”
Formal respite care, peer support groups and other options could also help stave off fatigue and sadness – and the hospital staff who notice “pop drop” practices could help steer caregivers to such options. So could the primary care clinicians who take care of both the disabled spouse and the caregiver.
Because the new study takes into account the level of Medicare spending for the disabled spouse in the six months before their caregiver was interviewed, it may actually underestimate the impact of caregiver fatigue, she notes.
Indeed, before the authors corrected for the full range of factors, they documented that Medicare costs were lower for patients whose spouse-caregivers who reported being happy or rested. They also saw higher costs among patients whose caregivers had higher depression scores on a standard mood questionnaire.
One factor that wasn’t associated with higher costs in the new study was the caregiver’s score on a standard measure of sleep habits. Sleep disruption is harder to quantify in older people, Ankuda notes. But the measurement of fatigue, which can result from both the strain of caregiving and poor sleep, was clearly associated with both higher rates of emergency department visits and higher overall costs.
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