Hands to Help Seniors
There was much excitement when the FDA approved a new drug called Aduhelm to treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Although there was some debate over its efficacy, the fact that there have been no new drugs brought to market to treat this horrible disease in decades had some filled with hope. However, Biogen Inc., the pharmaceutical company who makes the drug, admitted this week that there was one death linked to Aduhelm. The company announced that a 75-year old who took the drug was hospitalized and diagnosed with swelling in the brain before dying. It’s unclear that the brain swelling was linked to the drug, however, there is sure to be an investigation due to the fact that brain swelling, also known as ARIA-E, was cited as one of the most common side effects during testing of the drug.
A House bill sponsored by Democrats called Social Security 2100 : A Sacred Trust does much to help seniors, boosting benefits in a number of areas. Introduced by Rep. John Carson, D-Conn. who serves on the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee is a bit perplexing as it is adding to a looming deficit and does nothing to address how our nation will pay for it. Some key issues in the bill:
Benefits would be set at 125% above the poverty line and tied to current wage levels;
Both new and existing beneficiaries would get a 2% increase in their benefit, on average;
The bill would repeal rules that reduce Social Security benefits for workers and their spouses, widows or widowers who also have pension income (called the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset); and
Annual cost-of-living adjustments would be tied to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, or CPI-E.
The latest estimates from the government are that by 2034, Social Security benefits will drop to 78% of what has been promised, and this new bill extends that date to 2038 to give Congress more time to come up with a long-term solution to the program’s solvency issues. There is a provision for an increase in the wages cap where workers have to pay Social Security Tax (up from $147,000 to $400,000). However, this will likely be offset from a provision in the bill which would only require Social Security recipients to pay taxes on earnings above $35,000 ($50,000 for couples), up significantly from $25K and $32K respectively. This seems to me like Congress just kicking the can down the road—why not try and solve this issue now?
There seems to be no end to the tricks insurers will come up with in order to suck more money out of Medicare. According to the findings of the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, it analyzed 20 companies and investigators found that one received about 40% of the questionable payments, or $3.7 billion, while enrolling only 22% of Medicare Advantage customers. It wouldn’t name the company, but BMO Capital Market looked at federal data and showed that the enrollment share closely matches UnitedHealth Group Inc. during the period the investors looked at.
I have witnessed first hand nursing home and assisted living facilities giving seniors heavy medication in order to just keep them quiet, sometimes even restraining them. The New York Times recently wrote a story about this practice saying that 1 in 5 nursing homes prescribe Antipsychotics, which are extremely dangerous to give to the elderly, particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. The story highlighted David Blakeney, who entered a nursing home with severe dementia. He was restless and agitated and the facility’s physician wanted to prescribe Haldol, a powerful sedative. “Add Dx schizophrenia for use of Haldol,” read the doctor’s order, which essentially added another diagnosis of schizophrenia despite the fact that there were no signs the patient had that condition. These types of drugs are commonly referred to as chemical straightjackets and, unfortunately, they can nearly double the chance of death from heart problems, infections, falls and other ailments for seniors with dementia. But with nursing homes understaffed, it’s an easy solution to just sedate more patients so they can be handled with less staff. The patient in the Times article died at the early age of 64 just eight months after being put on Haldol, but not before suffering devastating weight loss, pneumonia and the amputation of one of his feet due to severe bedsores. This should not happen in this country. If you have a loved one in a facility, regularly ask for a list of prescriptions that they are on. This is all too common.
Long Term Care or LTC Insurance is the only insurance policy which will cover the care of services provided by companies like Family inHome Caregiving, an in-home care company which I own. Many people come to Hands to Help Seniors looking for help in their senior years which isn't covered by the government. Unfortunately, LTC is very expensive and few people have it. A 2019 study funded by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care found that by 2029, more than half of the nation’s 14.4 million middle-income older adults won’t have the financial resources necessary to pay for senior housing or in-home care. The study concludes that both public and private funds need to come to the rescue. There is hope. The Well-Being Insurance for Seniors to be at Home (WISH) Act would create a federal LTC trust fund that would pay for catastrophic long-term care for those who need it, and it would also allow private insurance companies to offer affordable coverage plans for the initial years of disability. The plan would be fully paid for by a slight increase in the payroll tax (0.3% of income for both workers and employers), or roughly $300 per year for a median-income earner.