Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

Does The U.S. Have Plans To Pay For Long-Term Care?

The Obama administration has dealt a mighty blow to one part of the health reform law by effectively killing off the CLASS Act, which was to be a baby step in the development of a national program to pay for long-term care.   The CLASS Act, short for Community Living Assistance Services and Support Act, was supposed to be a voluntary and federally backed insurance program for people to use to cover potential long-term care needs.  The idea was for Americans to pay premiums into the fund during their working years.  If they later became disabled and needed assistance, they would be entitled to a daily cash benefit of, say, $50 to buy services of a personal care attendant or make home improvements that would allow them to stay in their homes—the preference of most seniors.  Advocates of the CLASS Act even envisioned that some of the benefit could be used for nursing home care.

The program, though, was never popular with insurance companies and politicians who listened to them, and the Act barely made it into the final bill.  It ran into trouble from the beginning.  The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, was tasked with making sure that the program would be financially viable for seventy-five years, and the HHS Secretary found that after months of study, the mathematical models indicated that was impossible.   Why?  Because the program is voluntary, and people might sign up for it only when they think they will need long-term care.  That’s like buying insurance only when the house catches on fire.  The program depended on a lot of healthy people signing up to spread the risk, and Sebelius said that was not likely given how expensive premiums would have to be.   She predicted that premiums might be in the range of $235 to $391 a month and could go as high as $3000 a month under some scenarios.  For people who are having a hard enough time paying for increasing costs of medical care, with both higher premiums and more out-of-pocket costs, the government believed that people might not be keen about yet another expensive premium.

With or without CLASS, the U.S. has no viable or sustainable system for providing long-term care. Nursing home care is expensive, and can cost more than $100,000 a year in some states like New York.  Right now families pay out of their own pockets, and when they run out of money or don’t have it to begin with, they turn to Medicaid.  Families needing Medicaid must use most of their income and most of their assets to pay for care before Medicaid steps in.  In other words, middle class people must make themselves poor to qualify for a program that was basically established to provide health care for those with very low incomes.  Medicaid is less-than-ideal, and as states continue to have shrinking budgets, qualifying for Medicaid is becoming even harder.

Long-term care insurance also has a lot of drawbacks.  It, too, is expensive.  It’s not uncommon for a family to spend $2000, $3000, or more for a policy.  People who currently have insurance might be tempted to drop them as companies raise their premiums.  Many insurers underpriced their products as a way to grab business, leaving policyholders to suffer the consequences later on.

Furthermore, you can only buy a policy if you pass the insurance company’s medical requirements.  Companies don’t want to insure people, who, for example, have Parkinson’s disease, and may need nursing home care.   What about the health reform law, you might be thinking, that requires health insurers to sell policies to all comers even those with serious illness?  Sellers of long-term-care insurance are exempt from that requirement.  That means even if you wanted to buy the insurance and had money to pay for it, you may not qualify.  The market for this insurance is likely to remain small.

With the CLASS Act’s demise, the country is back at square one.

horizontalline

You can read Trudy Lieberman’s bio here.

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

Read more »

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

***

Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

Read more »

See all book reviews »