Senate Health Bill Vote Expected Next Week

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 25, 2017

The long-awaited Senate health bill text crafted by a group of 13 GOP senators (all male) appointed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to replace and repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2017 (ACA), popularly, called Obamacare, was unveiled days ago. Republican lawmakers have worked for over seven years to dismantle the Democratic president’s landmark health care law. Supporters say that ACA brought health care coverage to an estimated 20 million Americans, covered between marketplace, Medicaid expansion, young adults staying on their parent’s plan, and other coverage provisions. Critics charge that Obamacare imposed too many costs to business owners.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats lashed out at GOP Senate leadership charging that the Senate health bill, titled “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017,” was written behind closed doors without a single committee hearing being held or draft bill text being circulated to the public. Some Republican senators also expressed frustration for not seeing the details of the GOP bill before its release on June 22, 2017.

Like Senate Democrats, Health and Human Secretary Tom Price was left in the dark, too. At a Senate hearing before the release of the Senate bill the Trump Administration’s top health official stated that he had not seen any legislative language.

Senate Health Bill “Meaner” than House Version

Despite President Trump’s campaign pledge not to touch popular entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, he strongly endorsed the House Republican passed health bill, the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA). At the eleventh hour, Trump twisted the arms of reluctant GOOP House members to gain their support of the controversial health care bill. Celebrating the passage of AHCA at the White House Rose garden, the president told the attending Republican lawmakers and guests that the GOP health bill was a “great plan,” adding that it was “very, very, incredibly well-crafted.” It was reported weeks later, after a closed-door luncheon with 15 Republican Senators, Trump had called AHCA “mean” and urged the attending Senators make their legislative proposal “more generous.”

With the release of the Senate health bill, Senate Minority Leader Schumer called the bill “meaner” than the House passed version, stressing its negative impact was far worse than AHCA. Trump called the House health bill “mean.” Schumer views the Senate’s version “meaner.”

GOP Senate leadership is pressing for a floor vote before the upcoming July 4th Congressional recess. To meet this deadline, this vote must take place by the end of next week, either Thursday or Friday, after 20 hours of debate. Early next week the Congressional Budget Office will release its score, detailing cost and coverage impact, on the Senate health bill. Moderate Republican senators might just be influenced not to vote for the bill if reduces health coverage for millions of Americans.

It usually takes 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate. But, GOP Senate leadership is using a technical parliamentary procedure, referred to as reconciliation, to allow the Senate health bill to pass with only 50 votes, including the Vice President as a tiebreaker.

At press time, there are four conservative senators (Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin) and one moderate senator (Dean Heller of Nevada)., who have publicly expressed their opposition to the Senate health bill. With all Democratic and Independent senators in their caucus opposing passage of the bill, GOP Senate leadership can only afford the defection of two Republican senators if they want their bill to pass.

Meanwhile, a 100-year old organization, Planned Parenthood, is gearing up to fight a provision of the Senate health bill that would cut $555 million in funding. Two moderate GOP Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are on the fence voting for the bill if cuts are made to Planned Parenthood.

Aging Groups See Writing on Wall if Senate Passes Health Bill

The released 142-page GOP Senate health bill, written hastily behind closed doors, will overhaul the nation’s health care system, impacting on one-sixth of the nation’s economy. Dozens of aging, health care and medical groups, including AARP, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the American Medical Association, and the American Hospital Association, are voicing their strong opposition to the GOP Senate’s health care fix.

And this list keeps growing as next week’s Senate vote approaches.

The Washington, DC-based AARP, representing a whopping 38 million members, vows to hold GOP Senators accountable for a bill that hurts older Americans. The nonprofit group charges that “the legislation imposes an “Age Tax” on older adults – increasing health care premiums and reducing tax credits [that made insurance more affordable under Obamacare], makes cuts to both Medicaid funding, and yet gives billions of dollars in take breaks to drug and insurance companies.”

“AARP is also deeply concerned that the Senate bill cuts Medicaid funding that would strip health coverage from millions of low-income and vulnerable Americans who depend on the coverage, including 17 million poor seniors and children and adults with disabilities. The proposed Medicaid cuts would leave millions, including our most vulnerable seniors, at risk of losing the care they need and erode seniors’ ability to live in their homes and communities,” says
AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond, in a statement.

“The Senate bill also cuts funding for Medicare which weakens the programs ability to pay benefits and leaves the door wide open to benefit cuts and Medicare vouchers. AARP has long opposed proposals that cut benefits or weaken Medicare, adds LeaMond.

LeaMond says, “As we did with all 435 Members of the House of Representatives, AARP will also hold all 100 Senators accountable for their votes on this harmful health care bill. Our members care deeply about their health care and have told us repeatedly that they want to know where their elected officials stand. We strongly urge the Senate to reject this bill.”

Another Washington-DC based organization, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an advocacy group whose mission is to protect Social Security and Medicare, issued a stinging statement criticizing the Senate health bill.

“The Senate’s version of AHCA is an exercise in political expediency that does nothing to safeguard access to quality healthcare for older Americans. President Trump rightly called the House-passed bill ‘mean’ and lacking ‘heart.’ Unfortunately, the Senate bill is only marginally less mean in some ways, and even more heartless in others, says Max Richtman, President & CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Adds, Richtman, “The Senate health bill is “a lose-lose for seniors and the American people. The biggest loss is that the AHCA ends the Medicaid program as we know it. Astoundingly, the Senate bill makes even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the House did. This is devastating news for today’s and tomorrow’s seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s, cancer, the after-effects of stroke and other serious conditions who depend on Medicaid to pay for long-term care. Millions will lose Medicaid coverage over the next ten years.”

“Despite some tweaks to premium subsidies, the Senate legislation will make healthcare unaffordable for many near seniors aged 50-64. The legislation allows insurers to charge older Americans five times as much as younger adults. Though the Senate bill nominally protects people with pre-existing conditions, the waiver of essential benefits means older patients with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease will pay sky-high premiums [making these premiums unaffordable to most]. Finally, the bill weakens Medicare by reducing the solvency of the Part A Trust fund,” notes Richtman.

Looking at a Crystal Ball

Darrell M. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based the Brookings Institution, says that the Senate health bill does not fix the issues critics had with the House version. “It moves Medicaid from an entitlement to a discretionary program. It uses a longer phase-in period than the House, but imposes deeper cuts on the program. This is very problematic from the standpoint of poor and disabled people who need help,” says West.

According to West, Republican Senators from more moderate states already have said they will not support the current version. There also are conservative Senators who feel the bill does not go far enough in repealing Obamacare. If those positions hold up, it doesn’t look like the bill will pass.

West warns those who oppose the passage of the Senate health bill to not underestimate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He is willing to negotiate with individual Senators to get their votes so it is premature to call the bill dead. McConnell knows the Senate well and understands what compromises need to be made to get to 50 votes,” notes West.

If Senate Republicans pass their health care bill next week, I predict they might just find out that they have “awakened a sleeping giant,” the Democrats. When the dust settles after the 2018 mid-term elections we will find this out.

AARP Scorecard: Taking a Closer Look at Rhode Island’s Long-Term Services and Support to Older Adults

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 18, 2017

With America’s baby boomers beginning to turn age 80 in 2026, days ago the Washington, DC-based AARP released Scorecards detailing how each state spends its dollars on long-term services and supports (LTSS) to assist older adults and adults with disabilities. The report findings revealed a need for state legislatures to quicken the pace of improving LTSS for their older residents. LTSS include assistance with activities of daily living provided to older adults and people with disabilities who cannot perform these activities on their own because of physical, cognitive, or chronic health conditions. The types of assistance include such things as help with bathing, dressing, managing medications, preparing meals, and transportation, as well as support for family caregivers.

The latest comprehensive state-by-state Scorecard report was funded by AARP Foundation with support of the nation’s leading organizations behind quality long-term care, The Commonwealth Fund and SCAN Foundation. This is the third edition of the Scorecard, initially released in 2011 and again in 2014.

AARP’s 2017 report, “Picking Up the Pace of Change: A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers (“Scorecard”), released on June 14, finds that although Rhode Island and most states have taken small steps to make some progress, this pace of change overall remains too slow and has not kept up with demographic demands.

“This Scorecard sounds the alarm, but it also provides a range of tools states can use to spark new solutions and create systems that are aligned with the new realities of aging and living with a disability,” said Susan Reinhard, RN, PhD, Senior Vice President and Director, AARP Public Policy Institute. “The proposed cuts to Medicaid—the largest public payer of long-term assistance—would result in millions of older adults and people with disabilities losing lifesaving supports.”

“This new Scorecard shows that it’s time for all states to accelerate care improvements for older adults and people with disabilities,” said Bruce Chernof, MD, FACP, President and CEO of The SCAN Foundation. “States that consistently rank at the top have strategically planned for their aging population across the main sectors of health, housing, transportation and family caregiving.”

Like previous two LTSS scorecards, states are ranked on their performance in five categories: Affordability and access, Choice of setting and provider; Quality of life and quality of care; Support for family caregivers; and Effective transitions between nursing homes, hospitals and homes. Within the five categories, states are scored on their performance in 25 specific indicators, including such things as Medicaid spending, nursing home cost, home health aide supply, antipsychotic medication use in nursing home residents, long nursing home stays, employment rate of people with disabilities, and support of working caregivers.

But this year, AARP has made changes in LTSS Scores in the way information is presented on its interactive website (www.longtermscorecard.org), making it easier for a user to customize data to suit their specific needs. Visitors to the Scorecard site will be able to access videos, called Impact Stories, that show how improving on the Scorecard can impact the lives of real people.

Users can also download Promising Practices as well as Emerging Innovations (updated throughout the year) that state officials can use as they work to improve their long-term care delivery systems.

Rhode Island Improves in Delivering LTC Services

In the 2017 AARP report, Rhode Island ranks 32nd overall when it comes to meeting the long-term care needs of older residents and people with disabilities, but showed improvement in all but one Scorecard category. AARP warns more must be done, at an accelerated pace, to meet changing demographic demands. Rhode Island ranks 22nd nationally Support for Family Caregivers and 24th in Quality of Life & Quality of Care. The state ranks 35th in Effective Transitions – the only category in decline

“The vast majority of older Rhode Islanders want to live independently, at home, as they age—most with the help of unpaid family caregivers,” says Kathleen Connell, State Director of AARP Rhode Island, which serves more than 138,00 members age 50 and older in the state. “Even facing tight budgets, Rhode Island is making progress to help our older residents achieve that goal. However, this Scorecard shows we have more to do, and we need to pick up the pace.”

According to Connell, today, unpaid family caregivers provide the bulk of care for older Rhode Islanders in part because the cost of long-term care remains unaffordable for most middle-income families. In Rhode Island, more than 134,000 residents help their aging parents, spouses and other loved ones stay at home by helping with bathing and dressing, transportation, finances, complex medical tasks like wound care and injections, and more. The value of this unpaid care totals about $1.78 billion.

“When it comes to helping older Rhode, Islanders live in the setting of their choice, family caregivers take on big responsibilities,” explains Connell. “Many juggle full-time jobs with their caregiving duties; others provide 24/7 care for their loved ones. With every task they undertake, these family caregivers save the state money by keeping their loved ones out of costly nursing homes – most often paid for Medicaid. They have earned some basic support.”

“That’s why AARP Rhode Island has fought for Caregiver, Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act; caregiver temporary leave insurance; and caregiver tax credits, adds Connell.

Rhode Island has made progress to improve long-term services and supports for older adults and people with disabilities, as highlighted in this Scorecard. But, proposals in Washington, D.C. to drastically cut federal Medicaid funding would threaten these advancements, likely resulting in our most vulnerable citizens losing the lifesaving supports that they count on,” says Connell.

“The single strongest predictor of a state’s long-term care system is the reach of its Medicaid long-term care safety net,” says Connell, noting that’s why AARP fights to expand services provided at home and in the community, by shifting funds away from and more expensive nursing home care. “While the percent of long-stay nursing home residents hospitalized within a six-month period has decreased, the Scorecard highlights additional serious issues related to institutional care in Rhode Island, such as residents with pressure sores and residents with low care needs],” she notes.

While Rhode Island has improved its rank from 50th to 44th in the percentage of Medicaid long-term care dollars for older adults and people with physical disabilities that support care provided at home and in the community—the care setting that most Rhode Islanders prefer—the Scorecard spotlights areas that call for improvement, including choice of setting and provider; and effective transitions.

Specifically, the percent of

• Medicaid and state-funded LTSS going to HCBS;
• Medicaid LTSS users first receiving services in the community;
• People with 90+ day nursing home stays successfully transitioning back to the community;
• Nursing home stays lasting 100 days or more.

“This Scorecard gives us a snapshot of how well Rhode Island serves our older residents, those with disabilities, and family caregivers—and shows us where we must sharpen our focus to better assist hardworking Rhode Islanders,” concludes Connell. “We will continue to work with the governor, legislative leaders and policymakers to take the actions needed now to protect our expanding needs.”

Connell says that of the 25 Scorecard indicators, many may be improved through state policy changes, pointing to the importance of AARP’s multi-state advocacy campaign, launched in 2014, to help older Americans live independently, at home, and the family caregivers that support them.

Director Charles Fogarty, of Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly Affairs, sees the importance of AARP’s Rhode Island’s Scorecard, to evaluate progress in meeting the needs of older Rhode Islanders. “This report reinforces what we already know: while Rhode Island is showing improvements in some areas, there is still much to be done to provide the level of care and services our seniors deserve. Our improved ranking from 50th to 44th in the percentage of Medicaid long-term care dollars spent on home and community care options is a step in the right direction,” says Fogarty.
“We must continue to build upon the success of Reinventing Medicaid and move towards rebalancing of the long-term care system while preserving access and quality of care for older Rhode Islanders,” adds Fogarty.

AARP Scorecard Snap Shot of the National Delivery of LTSS

Washington State and Minnesota are top-ranked states again (followed by Vermont, Oregon and Alaska), but all states lag in helping care for the nation’s growing populations of older persons with people aging and living with disabilities.

AARP’s LTSS Score card noted that the bottom ranking states were Indiana, (No. 51), Kentucky (No. 50, Alabama, (No. 49), Mississippi, (No. 48), and Tennessee (no. 47).

According to researchers, overall, states made incremental LTSS improvements since the previous report in 2014, but the pace of change has been slow and uneven. However, two states—Tennessee and New York—showed the most improvement across measures since the last Scorecard.

States made the most significant progress in reducing inappropriate ‘off label’ use of antipsychotic medications among nursing home residents and increasing support of family caregivers.

In general, states showed the most significant declines in employment rates for people with disabilities and rates of transitioning long-stay nursing home residents back into the community. Notably, the majority of states showed no real change on ‘Affordability and Access,’ meaning that the cost of LTSS over time continues to be much higher than what the majority of families can afford.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

Assistance to Employee Caregivers Good for Everyone’s Bottom Line

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 11, 2017

Days ago, AARP and the Respect a Caregiver’s Time Coalition (ReACT) released a report detailing innovative practices and policies of 14 organizations to support their employees with caregiver responsibilities. With the graying of America, supporting caregiver employees should be considered “a potentially new weapon” to attract or retain talented employees, say the researchers, by flexible work arrangements and paid leave policies. And there will be a need for this support.

It is estimated that of the 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S., 60 percent are employed. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP Public Policy Institute, nearly 25 percent of all family caregivers are millennials, and 50 percent are under the age of 50. This means that the growing number of family caregivers in the workforce is an issue that all employers will face. The NAC/AARP research also revealed that 61 percent of working caregivers must make workplace accommodations including modifying hours, taking a leave of absence, choosing early retirement or turning down a promotion.

Report Cites Best Practices to Support Employee Caregivers

The 14 case studies in the new report, “Supporting Working Caregivers: Case Studies of Promising Practices,” include well-known organizations from both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and both large and small employers. They represent a broad set of industries, including financial services, health care, higher education, home care, management consulting, media, and technology.

There is “no one size fit all” solution to meeting the needs of employee caregivers, say the researchers. But, even with the diversity of the 14 participating organizations “there is clear evidence of promising practices” identified through these interviews, they note.

Researchers gleaned best practices from 14 nonprofits and for profits (from very large employers with over 200,000 workers to ones with less than 200 workers), detailing in the report released on June 8, 2017, how these organizations assist their caregiver employees. These companies provide a broad array of information resources and referrals, flexible work arrangements, paid time off for caregiving, emergency backup care, and, in some cases, high-touch counseling and care management advice.

“Family caregivers juggle their loved one’s needs with their own personal and professional goals every day. AARP hopes this report will encourage more employers understand caregiving and support their employees’ success,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer in a statement. AARP sponsored the 49-page report.

According to researchers, interviews with business and human resources executives from the profiled organizations indicated that time and flexibility are what matter most to employees when it comes to balancing work and caregiving. Close to half of the employers interviewed provide paid time off for caregiving as well as emergency backup care and flexible work arrangements.

All offer employee caregivers a combination of information resources, referral services and advice by phone. Most provide resources online, typically through an employee assistance program (EAP) or an intranet portal. More than half offer phone consultations or 24/7 expert hotlines. Several interviewees stressed the value of providing on-site, independent eldercare consultants, noting that employees appreciate both the convenience and the respect for their privacy.

“ReACT represents a cross-sector employer effort to raise awareness of and spur action to meet the challenges millions face every day while taking care of an older loved one,” said Drew Holzapfel, convener of ReACT, in a statement. “It’s exciting to see how leading organizations are showcasing the value of employee caregivers’ dual roles at home and in the office.”

Organizations Give Thumbs Up to Assisting Employee Caregivers

Interviewees at the participating organizations were not shy in explaining the importance of offering caregiver assistance to employees.

Michelle Stone, Fannie Mae’s Work-Life Benefits Senior Program Manager, says, “We have been asked, ‘How can you afford to do this?’ Our response is, ‘How can we afford not to?’ The program helps our company and our employees save time and money, and the return on investment is substantial.”

Michelle Martin, Vice President, Human Resources Specialty Services, CBS Corporation, states, “Our hope is to fill the gaps in support along the continuum of care so that employees not only have what they need to care, but also the peace of mind to do so without worrying about their job.”

“At Allianz Life, we like to say, ‘we’ve been keeping promises to our employees and customers since our founding.’ Nothing matters more than our employees and we work every day to provide them with benefits that allow for work-life balance and peace of mind,” says Suzanne Dowd Zeller, Chief Human Resources Officer.

Adds Audrey Adelson, manager of work-life, Emory University, “Our program is based on a continuum of care model, designed to support not only entrenched caregivers, but also those who anticipate becoming a caregiver and those whose caregiving responsibilities have ended and are beginning to move beyond caregiving.”

AARP Rhode Island Champions Caregiving Temporary Disability Insurance

Most employers recognize that some of their best workers are not at their best when they are caregivers in crisis for feeling the onset of burnout,” AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen noted. “One of the reasons is that most employers and their human resources managers respond to the needs of caregivers is because they are not far removed from caregiving if not caregivers themselves. They know that caregiving responsibilities sometimes must take precedence over work. And they understand that what is good for the caregiver is also good for their business.

“In Rhode Island, caregiving temporary disability insurance – legislation championed by AARP – gives caregivers paid leave to attend to caregiving tasks or as respite when a break from work benefits all concerned. Employers should assess their policies and give thought to the importance of supporting their caregiving employees’ success. This is true of businesses large and small and non-profits as well. These bosses can start by simply asking themselves what their expectations would be if they were an employee.”

Rhode Island CEOs might consider obtaining a copy of this report, passing the document to Human Resources for review and ultimate implement of eldercare policies. Stressed employee caregivers will appreciate any assistance they can get to help them in their caregiving responsibilities. But, this makes good business sense, too. Assisting employee caregivers will increase employee productivity, improving the company’s bottom line.

To read the full report, go to:

Click to access AARP-ReAct-MASTER-web.pdf