Nursing Home Costs Rise Sharply in 2017

The median cost of a private nursing home room in the United States has increased to $97,455 a year, up 5.5 percent from 2016, according to Genworth's 2017 Cost of Care survey, which the insurer conducts annually. Genworth reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $85,775, up 4.44 percent from 2016. The rise in prices is much larger than the 1.24 percent and 2.27 percent gains, respectively, in 2016.

The price rise was slightly less for assisted living facilities, where the median rate rose 3.36 percent, to $3,750 a month. The national median rate for the services of a home health aide was $22 an hour, up from $20 in 2016, and the cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, rose from $68 to $70 a day.

Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care, with the median annual cost of a private nursing home room totaling $292,000. Oklahoma again was found to be the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of a private room of $63,510.

The 2017 survey was based on responses from more than 15,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers. The survey was conducted by phone during May and June of 2017.

As the survey indicates, nursing home care is growing ever more expensive. Contact your elder law attorney to learn how you can protect some or all of your family's assets.

For more on Genworth’s 2017 Cost of Care Survey, including costs for your state, click here.

 

Long-Term Care Scorecard Finds States Have Room for Improvement

A new report finds that states have made incremental improvements in providing long-term care, but need to make more improvements in order to meet the needs of the growing number of people who require long-term care services. According to the 2017 Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard, while long-term care remains unaffordable for middle class families, there has been some progress in other areas.

The scorecard, a collaboration between the AARP, The Commonwealth Fund, and The SCAN Foundation, measures states' long-term care system performance in five areas: affordability and access, choice of setting and provider, quality of life and quality of care, support for family caregivers, and effective transitions between care settings.

The 2017 scorecard found that states showed progress since the previous scorecard in 2014 in reducing inappropriate antipsychotic drug use for nursing home residents, helping family caregivers, reducing long-term nursing home stays, increasing the number of Medicaid recipients receiving care at home or in the community rather than in an institution, and reducing potentially burdensome hospitalizations for people who die in a nursing home. However, the scorecard concludes that overall improvements are not keeping up with the demand. For example, there are not enough home care workers to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities living in the community. In addition, while states have made improvements in providing home health care, progress is moving too slowly to keep up with growing needs.

According to the scorecard, the top five states for long-term care are Washington, Minnesota, Vermont, Oregon, and Alaska. The bottom five states are Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Indiana. Tennessee and New York made the most progress since the previous scorecard in 2014.

To see where your state ranks, go here: http://www.longtermscorecard.org/2017-scorecard

Using a Prepaid Funeral Contract to Spend Down Assets for Medicaid

No one wants to think about his or her death, but a little preparation in the form of a prepaid funeral contract can be useful. In addition to helping your family after your death, a prepaid funeral contract can be a good way to spend down assets in order to qualify for Medicaid.

A prepaid or pre-need funeral contract allows you to purchase funeral goods and services before you die. The contract can be entered into with a funeral home or cemetery. Prepaid funeral contracts can include payments for: embalming and restoration, room for the funeral service, casket, vault or grave liner, cremation, transportation, permits, headstones, death certificates, and obituaries, among other things.

One benefit of a prepaid funeral contract is that you are paying now for a service that may increase in price—possibly saving your family money. You are also saving your family from having to make arrangements after you die, which can be difficult and time-consuming. And, if you are planning on applying for Medicaid, a prepaid funeral contract can be a way to spend down your assets.

Medicaid applicants must spend down their available assets until they reach the qualifying level (usually around $2,000, depending on the state). By purchasing a prepaid funeral contract, you can turn available assets into an exempt asset that won't affect your eligibility. In order for a prepaid funeral contract to be exempt from Medicaid asset rules, the contract must be irrevocable. That means you can't change it or cancel it once it is signed.

Before purchasing a contract, you should shop around and compare prices to make sure it is the right contract for you. Buyers need to be careful that they are buying from a reputable company and need to ask for a price list to make sure they are not overpaying. 

For information from the Federal Trade Commission on shopping for funeral services, click here.

 

 

Don't Let Health Care Providers Use the Improvement Standard to Deny Medicare Coverage

Have you or a loved one been denied Medicare-covered services because you’re “not improving”? Many health care providers are still not aware that Medicare is required to cover skilled nursing and home care even if a patient is not showing improvement. If you are denied coverage based on this outdated standard, you have the right to appeal.

For decades Medicare, skilled nursing facilities, and visiting nurse associations applied the so-called “improvement” standard to determine whether residents were entitled to Medicare coverage of the care. The standard, which is not in Medicare law, only permitted coverage if the skilled treatment was deemed to contribute to improving the patient's condition, which can be difficult to achieve for many ill seniors.

Three years ago in the case of Jimmo v. Sebelius the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) agreed to a settlement in which it acknowledged that there's no legal basis to the “improvement” standard and that both inpatient skilled nursing care and outpatient home care and therapy may be covered under Medicare as long as the treatment helps the patient maintain her current status or simply delays or slows her decline. In other words, as long as the patient benefits from the skilled care, which can include nursing care or physical, occupational, or speech therapy, then the patient is entitled to Medicare coverage.

Medicare will cover up to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility following an inpatient hospital stay of at least three days and will cover home-based care indefinitely if the patient is homebound.

Unfortunately, despite the Jimmo settlement, the word hasn't gotten out entirely to the hospitals, visiting nursing associations, skilled nursing facilities, and insurance intermediaries that actually apply the rules. As a result, the Jimmo plaintiffs and CMS have now agreed to a court-ordered corrective action plan, which includes the following statement:

 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reminds the Medicare community of the Jimmo Settlement Agreement (January 2014), which clarified that the Medicare program covers skilled nursing care and skilled therapy services under Medicare’s skilled nursing facility, home health, and outpatient therapy benefits when a beneficiary needs skilled care in order to maintain function or to prevent or slow decline or deterioration (provided all other coverage criteria are met). Specifically, the Jimmo Settlement required manual revisions to restate a “maintenance coverage standard” for both skilled nursing and therapy services under these benefits:

Skilled nursing services would be covered where such skilled nursing services are necessary to maintain the patient's current condition or prevent or slow further deterioration so long as the beneficiary requires skilled care for the services to be safely and effectively provided.

Skilled therapy services are covered when an individualized assessment of the patient's clinical condition demonstrates that the specialized judgment, knowledge, and skills of a qualified therapist (“skilled care”) are necessary for the performance of a safe and effective maintenance program. Such a maintenance program to maintain the patient's current condition or to prevent or slow further deterioration is covered so long as the beneficiary requires skilled care for the safe and effective performance of the program.

The Jimmo Settlement may reflect a change in practice for those providers, adjudicators, and contractors who may have erroneously believed that the Medicare program covers nursing and therapy services under these benefits only when a beneficiary is expected to improve. The Settlement is consistent with the Medicare program's regulations governing maintenance nursing and therapy in skilled nursing facilities, home health services, and outpatient therapy (physical, occupational, and speech) and nursing and therapy in inpatient rehabilitation hospitals for beneficiaries who need the level of care that such hospitals provide

“The CMS Corrective Statement is intended to make it absolutely clear that Medicare coverage can be available for skilled therapy and nursing that is needed to maintain an individual’s condition or slow deterioration,” says Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy and a counsel for the plaintiffs. “We are hopeful this will truly advance access to Medicare and necessary care for people with long-term and debilitating conditions.”

While this doesn't change the rights Medicare patients have always had, it should make it somewhat easier to enforce them. If you or a loved one gets denied coverage because the patient is not “improving,” then appeal.

To read the court order implementing the new corrective action plan, click here

Take These Three Steps When Your Child Turns 18

If your child has reached the teenage years, you may already feel as though you are losing control of her life. This is legally true once your child reaches the age of 18 because then the state considers your child to be an adult with the legal right to govern his or her own life.

Up until your child reaches 18, you are absolutely entitled to access your child’s medical records and to make decisions regarding the course of his treatment. And, your child’s financial affairs are your financial affairs. This changes once your child reaches the age of 18 because your now-adult child is legally entitled to his privacy and you no longer have the same level of access to or authority over his financial, educational and medical information. As long as all is well, this can be fine. However, it’s important to plan for the unexpected and for your child to set up an estate plan that at least includes the following three crucial components:

1. Health Care Proxy with HIPAA Release

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, once your child turns 18, the child's health records are now between the child and his or her health care provider. The HIPAA laws prevent you from even getting medical updates in the event your child is unable to communicate his or her wishes to have you involved. Without a HIPAA release, you may have many obstacles before receiving critically needed information, including whether your adult child has even been admitted to a particular medical facility.

Should your child suffer a medical crisis resulting in the child's inability to communicate for him or herself, doctors and other medical professionals may refuse to speak with you and allow you to make medical decisions for your child. You may be forced to hire an attorney to petition to have you appointed as your child’s legal guardian by a court. At this time of crisis, your primary concern is to ensure your child is taken care of and you do not need the additional burden of court proceedings and associated legal costs. A health care proxy with a HIPAA release would enable your child to designate you or another trusted person to make medical decisions in the event your child is unable to convey his or her wishes.

2. Durable Power of Attorney

Like medical information, your 18-year-old child’s finances are also private.  If your child becomes incapacitated, without a durable power of attorney you cannot access the child's bank accounts or credit cards to make sure bills are being paid. If you needed to access financial accounts in order to manage or resolve any problem, you may be forced to seek the court’s appointment as conservator of your child.

Absent a crisis, a power of attorney can also be helpful in issues that may arise when your child is away at college or traveling. For example, if your son is traveling and an issue comes up where he cannot access his accounts, a durable power of attorney would give you or another trusted person the authority to manage the issue. An alternative may be to encourage your child to consider a joint account with you.  However, this is rarely recommended because of the unintended consequences for taxes, financial aid applications, creditor issues, etc.

3. Will

Your child owns any funds given to him or her as a minor or that he or she may have earned. In the catastrophic event that your child predeceases you, these assets may have to be probated and will pass to your child’s heirs at law, which in most states would be the parents. If you have created an estate plan that reduces your estate for estate tax or asset protections purposes, the receipt of those assets could frustrate your estate planning goals. In addition, your child may wish to leave some tangible property and financial assets to other family members or to charity.

While a will may be less important then the health care proxy, HIPAA release or durable power of attorney, ensuring that your child has all three components of an estate plan can prevent you, as a parent, from having to go to court to obtain legal authority to make time-sensitive medical or financial decisions for your child.

If you have a child (or grandchild) who is approaching adulthood, talk to your elder law attorney about having the child execute these three crucial documents. 

Veterans' Disability Benefits

The VA offers two disability programs. Disability compensation is available only for veterans with service-connected disabilities, while the disability pension benefit is available to anyone who served during wartime and has a disability. The disability does not have to be related to military service.

Disability compensation benefit

If you have an injury or disease that happened while on active duty or if active duty made an existing injury or disease worse, you may be eligible for disability compensation. The amount of compensation you get depends on how disabled you are and whether you have children or other dependents. To determine your disability rating, which is used to calculate compensation, you may use this disability calculator. Click here to see the current compensation rates. Additional funds may be available if you have severe disabilities, such as loss of limbs, or a seriously disabled spouse. 

Disability pension benefit

The VA pays a pension to disabled veterans who are not able to work. The pension is also available for surviving spouses and children. This pension is available whether or not your disability is service-connected, but to be eligible you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must not have been discharged under dishonorable conditions.
  • If you enlisted before September 7, 1980, you must have served 90 days or more of active duty with at least one day during a period of war. Anyone who enlisted after September 7, 1980, however, must serve at least 24 months or the full period for which that person was called to serve.
  • You must be permanently and totally disabled, or age 65 or older. You will need a letter from your doctor to prove that you are disabled.

In addition, your income must be below the yearly limit set by law; called the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR). The MAPR for 2016 (unchanged from 2015) are below:

 

Veteran with no dependents

$12,868

Veteran with a spouse or a child

$16,851

Housebound veteran with no dependents

$15,725

Housebound veteran with one dependent

$19,710

Additional children

$2,198 for each child

 

Your pension depends on your income. The VA pays the difference between your income and the MAPR. The pension is usually paid in 12 equal payments.

Example: John is a single veteran and has a yearly income of $7,348. His pension benefit would be $5,520 (12,868 – 7,348). Therefore, he would get $460 a month.

Your income does not include welfare benefits or Supplemental Security Income. It also does not include unreimbursed medical expenses actually paid by the veteran or a member of his or her family. This can include Medicare, Medigap, and long-term care insurance premiums; over-the-counter medications taken at a doctor’s recommendation; long-term care costs, such as nursing home fees; the cost of an in-home attendant that provides some medical or nursing services; and the cost of an assisted living facility. These expenses must be unreimbursed. This means that insurance must not pay the expenses. The expenses should also be recurring this means they should recur every month.

Aid and attendance

A veteran who needs the help of an attendant may qualify for additional help on top of the disability pension benefit. The veteran needs to show that he or she needs the help of an attendant on a regular basis. A veteran who lives in an assisted living facility is presumed to need aid and attendance.

A veteran who meets these requirements will get the difference between his or her income and the MAPR below (in 2016 figures):

 

Veteran who needs aid and attendance and has no dependents

$21,466

Veteran who needs aid and attendance and has one dependent

$25,448

 

 

How to apply

You can apply for both disability benefits by filling out VA Form 21-526, Veteran’s Application for Compensation or Pension. If available, you should attach copies of dependency records (marriage & children’s birth certificates) and current medical evidence (doctor & hospital reports). You can apply online at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp.

Veterans of the United States armed forces may be eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In addition, their dependents and survivors may also be eligible for benefits. For more information about all the benefits available from the VA, see the VA booklet Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors.