New Medicare cards — the ones that won't make it easy for ID thieves to steal your Social Security number — will find their way into wallets next year. But we're already hearing warnings about scams that are bubbling up before the big changeover. The design for the new Medicare card is expected to be revealed in September. And TV ads have already begun talking about the new cards and featuring the tagline "Guard Your Card." The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will mail new cards to those receiving Medicare benefits beginning in April 2018 through April 2019. The new cards will use a unique, randomly assigned code — not your Social Security number. Seniors do not have to do anything to get a new card. The new ID is called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier, which is 11-characters in length. The unique ID will be made of numbers and uppercase letters. Susan Bowen, who works for the Area Agency on Aging Region 9 serving northeast Michigan, has been trying to get the word out at various events, including conferences this summer relating to elder abuse, about the potential for new scams. Bowen envisions scammers crafting stories that scare seniors into thinking they won't receive their new cards in time if they don't hand over bank account information and Social Security numbers.
Or maybe some fraudsters, as they have in the past, will say there's a fee connected to receiving a new Medicare card. There is no such fee. Or scammers might threaten that you'd lose your benefits if you don't react to their demands right away, such as putting cash to pay a bill on a gift card.
On August 14, 2017, the American Bar Association’s (ABA) House of Delegates adopted Resolution 113, urging state, territorial, and tribal legislatures to (1) amend their guardianship statutes to require that supported decision making be identified and fully considered as a less restrictive alternative, before guardianship is imposed, and (2) require that decision-making supports that would meet the individual’s needs be identified and fully considered in proceedings for termination of guardianship and restoration of rights. The Resolution further urges courts to consider (1) supported decision making as a less-restrictive alternative to guardianship, and (2) decision making supports that would meet the individual’s needs as grounds for termination of a guardianship and restoration of rights. An individual’s right to make decisions about his or her life is a fundamental value in American law. Sponsored by the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, the Commission on Law and Aging, and the Sections of Civil Rights and Social Justice (Disability Rights Committee), and Real Property, Trust and Estate Law, this Resolution continues and furthers the ABA’s long-standing interest in, and commitment to, ensuring that guardianship is a “last resort,” after other, less-restrictive options have been considered. The Resolution recognizes the newly denominated modality of supported decision making — in which people with disabilities make their own decisions with supports, rather than rely on a surrogate — and urges that it be explicitly included in guardianship statutes requiring consideration of less-restrictive alternatives.
Medicare has launched a website aimed at helping families choose a hospice — but experts say it doesn’t help very much. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has released Hospice Compare, a consumer-focused website that lets families compare up to three hospice agencies at a time, among 3,876 nationwide. Following similar websites for hospitals and nursing homes, the site aims to improve transparency and empower families to “take ownership of their health,” according to a press release. Through the website, families can see how hospices performed in seven categories, including how many patients were screened for pain and breathing difficulties, and how many patients on opioids were offered treatment for constipation. But the measurements of quality, which are self-reported by hospices, have limited utility, some experts say. Over three-quarters of hospices scored at least 91 percent out of 100 on six of the seven categories, a recent paper in Health Affairs found. Because so many hospices reported high marks, there is “little room” for using these metrics to measure hospice quality, argued the authors, led by Dr. Joan Teno at the University of Washington. The Hospice Compare grades are based on hospices reporting whether they followed a specific process, such as screening for pain when the patient arrives. This type of metric may lead staff to just check a box to indicate they completed the desired process, resulting in high grades for everyone, which is not helpful for consumers or for quality improvement, the authors wrote.
In 2016, the first year health care providers were allowed to bill for the service, nearly 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries took part in the conversations, new federal data obtained by Kaiser Health News show. Nearly 23,000 providers submitted about $93 million in charges, including more than $43 million covered by the federal program for seniors and the disabled. Use was much higher than expected, nearly double the 300,000 people the American Medical Association projected would receive the service in the first year. That’s good news to proponents of the sessions, which focus on understanding and documenting treatment preferences for people nearing the end of their lives. Patients and, often, their families discuss with a doctor or other provider what kind of care they want if they’re unable to make decisions themselves. Still, only a fraction of eligible Medicare providers — and patients — have used the benefit, which pays about $86 for the first 30-minute office visit and about $75 for additional sessions. Nationwide, slightly more than 1 percent of the more than 56 million Medicare beneficiaries enrolled at the end of 2016 received advance-care planning talks, according to calculations by health policy analysts at Duke University. But use varied widely among states, from 0.2 percent of Alaska Medicare recipients to 2.49 percent of those enrolled in the program in Hawaii. In part, that’s because many providers, especially primary care doctors, aren’t aware that the Medicare reimbursement agreement, approved in 2015, has taken effect.
Donald Trump has signed an emergency spending bill that will pump more than $2 billion into a program that allows veterans to receive private medical care at government expense. Trump, who made improving veterans care a central campaign promise, signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act while at his New Jersey golf club on Saturday. The bill, which addresses a budget shortfall at the Department of Veteran Affairs that threatened medical care for thousands of veterans, provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek private care. Another $1.8 billion will go to core VA health programs, including 28 leases for new VA medical facilities. The Choice program was put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal that was discovered at the Phoenix VA hospital and spread throughout the country. Veterans waited weeks or months for appointments while phony records covered up the lengthy waits. The program allows veterans to receive care from outside doctors if they must wait at least 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility. VA Secretary David Shulkin has warned that without legislative action, the Choice program would run out of money by mid-August, causing delays in health care for thousands of veterans. The bill will extend the program for six months. Costs will be paid for by trimming pensions for some Medicaid-eligible veterans and collecting fees for housing loans.