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Facing Financial Ruin as Costs Soar for Elder Care

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Reed Abelson, The New York Times and Jordan Rau, KFF Health News
Tue, 14 Nov 2023 10:35:00 +0000

Margaret Newcomb, 69, a retired French teacher, is desperately trying to protect her retirement savings by caring for her 82-year-old husband, who has severe dementia, at home in Seattle. She used to fear his disease-induced paranoia, but now he's so frail and confused that he wanders away with no idea of how to find his way home. He gets lost so often that she attaches a tag to his shoelace with her phone number.

Feylyn Lewis, 35, sacrificed a promising career as a research director in England to return home to Nashville after her mother had a debilitating stroke. They ran up $15,000 in medical and credit card debt while she took on the role of caretaker.

Sheila Littleton, 30, brought her grandfather with dementia to her family home in Houston, then spent months fruitlessly trying to place him in a nursing home with Medicaid coverage. She eventually abandoned him at a psychiatric hospital to force the system to act.

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“That was terrible,” she said. “I had to do it.”

Millions of families are facing such daunting choices — and potential financial ruin — as the escalating costs of in-home care, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes devour the savings and incomes of older Americans and their relatives.

“People are exposed to the possibility of depleting almost all their wealth,” said Richard Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute.

The prospect of dying broke looms as an imminent threat for the boomer generation, which vastly expanded the middle class and looked hopefully toward a comfortable retirement on the backbone of 401(k)s and pensions. Roughly 10,000 of them will turn 65 every day until 2030, expecting to live into their 80s and 90s as the price tag for long-term care explodes, outpacing inflation and reaching a half-trillion dollars a year, according to federal researchers.

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The challenges will only grow. By 2050, the population of Americans 65 and older is projected to increase by more than 50%, to 86 million, according to census estimates. The number of people 85 or older will nearly triple to 19 million.

The United States has no coherent system of long-term care, mostly a patchwork. The private market, where a minuscule portion of families buy long-term care insurance, has shriveled, reduced over years of giant rate hikes by insurers that had underestimated how much care people would actually use. Labor shortages have left families searching for workers willing to care for their elders in the home. And the cost of a spot in an assisted living facility has soared to an unaffordable level for most middle-class Americans. They have to out of money to qualify for nursing home care paid for by the government.

For an examination of the crisis in long-term care, The New York Times and KFF Health News interviewed families across the nation as they struggled to obtain care; examined companies that it; and analyzed data from the federally funded Health and Retirement Study, the most authoritative national survey of older people about their long-term care needs and financial resources.

About 8 million people 65 and older reported that they had dementia or difficulty with basic daily tasks like bathing and feeding themselves — and nearly 3 million of them had no assistance at all, according to an analysis of the survey data. Most people relied on spouses, , grandchildren, or friends.

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The United States devotes a smaller share of its gross domestic product to long-term care than do most other wealthy countries, including Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and Japan, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The United States lags its international peers in another way: It dedicates far less of its overall health spending toward long-term care.

“We just don't value elders the way that other countries and other cultures do,” said Rachel Werner, executive director of the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. “We don't have a financing and insurance system for long-term care,” she said. “There isn't the political will to spend that much money.”

Despite medical advances that have added years to the average life span and allowed people to survive decades more after getting cancer or suffering from heart disease or strokes, federal long-term care for older people has not fundamentally changed in the decades since President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into in 1965. From 1960 to 2021, the number of Americans age 85 and older increased at more than six times the rate of the general population, according to census records.

Medicare, the federal health insurance program for Americans 65 and older, covers the costs of medical care, but generally pays for a home aide or a stay in a nursing home only for a limited time during a recovery from a surgery or a fall or for short-term rehabilitation.

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Medicaid, the federal-state program, covers long-term care, usually in a nursing home, but only for the poor. Middle-class people must exhaust their assets to qualify, forcing them to sell much of their property and to empty their bank accounts. If they go into a nursing home, they are permitted to keep a pittance of their retirement income: $50 or less a month in a majority of states. And spouses can hold onto only a modest amount of income and assets, often leaving their children and grandchildren to shoulder some of the financial burden.

“You basically want people to destitute themselves and then you take everything else that they have,” said Gay Glenn, whose mother lived in a nursing home in Kansas until she died in October at age 96.

Her mother, Betty Mae Glenn, had to spend down her savings, paying the home more than $10,000 a month, until she qualified for Medicaid. Glenn, 61, relocated from Chicago to Topeka more than four years ago, moving into one of her mother's two rental properties and overseeing her care and finances.

Under the state Medicaid program's byzantine rules, she had to pay rent to her mother, and that income went toward her mother's care. Glenn sold the family's house just before her mother's death in October. Her lawyer told her the estate had to pay Medicaid back about $20,000 from the proceeds.

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A play she wrote about her relationship with her mother, titled “If You See Panic in My Eyes,” was read this year at a theater festival.

At any given time, skilled nursing homes house roughly 630,000 older residents whose average age is about 77, according to recent estimates. A long-term resident's care can easily cost more than $100,000 a year without Medicaid coverage at these institutions, which are supposed to provide round-the-clock nursing coverage.

Nine in 10 people said it would be impossible or very difficult to pay that much, according to a KFF public opinion poll conducted during the pandemic.

Efforts to create a national long-term care system have repeatedly collapsed. Democrats have argued that the federal government needs to take a much stronger hand in subsidizing care. The Biden administration sought to improve wages and working conditions for paid caregivers. But a $150 billion proposal in the Build Back Better Act for in-home and community-based services under Medicaid was dropped to lower the price tag of the final legislation.

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“This is an issue that's coming to the front door of members of Congress,” said Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat and chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “No matter where you're representing — if you're representing a blue state or red state — families are not going to settle for just having one option,” he said, referring to nursing homes funded under Medicaid. “The federal government has got to do its part, which it hasn't.”

But leading Republicans in Congress say the federal government cannot be expected to step in more than it already does. Americans need to save for when they will inevitably need care, said Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the aging committee.

“So often people just think it's just going to work out,” he said. “Too many people get to the point where they're 65 and then say, ‘I don't have that much there.'”

Private Companies' Prices Have Skyrocketed

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The boomer generation is jogging and cycling into retirement, equipped with hip and knee replacements that have slowed their aging. And they are loath to enter the institutional setting of a nursing home.

But they face major expenses for the in-between years: falling along a spectrum between good health and needing round-the-clock care in a nursing home.

That has led them to assisted living centers run by for-profit companies and private equity funds enjoying robust profits in this growing market. Some 850,000 people age 65 or older now live in these facilities that are largely ineligible for federal funds and run the gamut, with some providing only basics like help getting dressed and taking medication and others offering luxury amenities like day trips, gourmet meals, yoga, and spas.

The bills can be staggering.

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Half of the nation's assisted living facilities cost at least $54,000 a year, according to Genworth, a long-term care insurer. That rises substantially in many metropolitan areas with lofty real estate prices. Specialized settings, like locked memory care units for those with dementia, can cost twice as much.

Home care is costly, too. Agencies charge about $27 an hour for a home health aide, according to Genworth. Hiring someone who spends six or seven hours a day cleaning and helping an older person get out of bed or take medications can add up to $60,000 a year.

As Americans live longer, the number who develop dementia, a of aging, has soared, as have their needs. Five million to 7 million Americans age 65 and up have dementia, and their ranks are projected to grow to nearly 12 million by 2040. The condition robs people of their memories, mars the ability to speak and understand, and can alter their personalities.

In Seattle, Margaret and Tim Newcomb sleep on separate floors of their two-story cottage, with Margaret ever mindful that her husband, who has dementia, can hallucinate and become aggressive if medication fails to tame his symptoms.

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“The anger has diminished from the early days,” she said last year.

But earlier on, she had resorted to calling the when he acted erratically.

“He was hating me and angry, and I didn't feel safe,” she said.

She considered memory care units, but the least expensive option cost around $8,000 a month and some could reach nearly twice that amount. The 's monthly income, with his pension from Seattle City Light, the utility company, and their combined Social Security, is $6,000.

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Placing her husband in such a place would have gutted the $500,000 they had saved before she retired from 35 years teaching art and French at a parochial school.

“I'll let go of everything if I have to, but it's a very unfair system,” she said. “If you didn't see ahead or didn't have the right type of job that provides for you, it's tough luck.”

In the last year, medication has quelled Tim's anger, but his health has declined so much that he no longer poses a physical threat. Margaret said she's reconciled to caring for him as long as she can.

“When I see him sitting out on the porch and appreciating the sun coming on his face, it's really sweet,” she said.

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The financial threat posed by dementia also weighs heavily on adult children who have become guardians of aged parents and have watched their slow, expensive declines.

Claudia Morrell, 64, of Parkville, Maryland, estimated her mother, Regine Hayes, spent more than $1 million during the eight years she needed residential care for dementia. That was possible only because her mother had two pensions, one from her husband's military service and another from his job at an insurance company, plus savings and Social Security.

Morrell paid legal fees required as her mother's guardian, as well as $6,000 on a special bed so her mother wouldn't fall out and on private aides after she suffered repeated small strokes. Her mother died last December at age 87.

“I will never have those kinds of resources,” Morrell, an education consultant, said. “My children will never have those kinds of resources. We didn't inherit enough or aren't going to earn enough to have the quality of care she got. You certainly can't live that way on Social Security.”

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Women Bear the Burden of Care

For seven years, Annie Reid abandoned her life in Colorado to sleep in her childhood bedroom in Maryland, living out of her suitcase and caring for her mother, Frances Sampogna, who had dementia. “No one else in my family was able to do this,” she said.

“It just dawned on me, I have to actually unpack and live here,” Reid, 61, remembered thinking. “And how long? There's no timeline on it.”

After Sampogna died at the end of September 2022, her daughter returned to Colorado and started a furniture redesign business, a craft she taught herself in her mother's basement. Reid recently had her knee replaced, something she could not do in Maryland because her insurance didn't doctors there.

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“It's amazing how much time went by,” she said. “I'm so grateful to be back in my life again.”

Studies are now calculating the toll of caregiving on children, especially women. The median lost wages for women providing intensive care for their mothers is $24,500 over two years, according to a study led by Norma Coe, an associate professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lewis moved back from England to Nashville to care for her mother, a former nurse who had a stroke that put her in a wheelchair.

“I was thrust back into a caregiving role full time,” she said. She gave up a post as a research director for a nonprofit organization. She is also tending to her 87-year-old grandfather, ill with prostate cancer and kidney disease.

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Making up for lost income seems daunting while she continues to support her mother.

But she is regaining hope: She was promoted to assistant dean for student affairs at Vanderbilt School of Nursing and was recently married. She and her husband plan to stay in the same apartment with her mother until they can save enough to move into a larger place.

Government Solutions Are Elusive

Over the years, lawmakers in Congress and government officials have sought to ease the financial burdens on individuals, but little has been achieved.

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The CLASS Act, part of the Obamacare legislation of 2010, was supposed to give people the option of paying into a long-term insurance program. It was repealed two years later amid compelling evidence that it would never be economically viable.

Two years ago, another proposal, called the WISH Act, outlined a long-term care trust fund, but it never gained traction.

On the home care front, the scarcity of workers has led to a flurry of attempts to improve wages and working conditions for paid caregivers. A provision in the Build Back Better Act to provide more for home care under Medicaid was not included in the final Inflation Reduction Act, a less costly version of the original bill that Democrats sought to pass last year.

The labor shortages are largely attributed to low wages for difficult work. In the Medicaid program, demand has clearly outstripped supply, according to a recent analysis. While the number of home aides in the Medicaid program has increased to 1.4 million in 2019 from 840,000 in 2008, the number of aides per 100 people who qualify for home or community care has declined nearly 12%.

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In April, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for changes to government programs that would improve conditions for workers and encourage initiatives that would relieve some of the burdens on families providing care.

Turning to Medicaid, a Shredded Safety Net

The only true safety net for many Americans is Medicaid, which represents, by far, the largest single source of funding for long-term care.

More than 4 in 5 middle-class people 65 or older who need long-term care for five years or more will eventually enroll, according to an analysis for the federal government by the Urban Institute. Almost half of upper-middle-class couples with lifetime earnings of more than $4.75 million will also end up on Medicaid.

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But gaps in Medicaid coverage leave many people without care. Under federal law, the program is obliged to offer nursing home care in every state. In-home care, which is not guaranteed, is provided under state waivers, and the number of participants is limited. Many states have long waiting lists, and it can be extremely difficult to find aides willing to work at the low-paying Medicaid rate.

Qualifying for a slot in a nursing home paid by Medicaid can be formidable, with many families spending thousands of dollars on lawyers and consultants to navigate state rules. Homes may be sold or couples may contemplate divorce to become eligible.

And recipients and their spouses may still have to contribute significant sums. After Stan Markowitz, a former history professor in Baltimore with Parkinson's disease, and his wife, Dottye Burt, 78, exhausted their savings on his two-year stay in an assisted living facility, he qualified for Medicaid and moved into a nursing home.

He was required to contribute $2,700 a month, which ate up 45% of the couple's retirement income. Burt, who was a racial justice consultant for nonprofits, rented a modest apartment near the home, all she could afford on what was left of their income.

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Markowitz died in September at age 86, easing the financial pressure on her. “I won't be having to pay the nursing home,” she said.

Even finding a place willing to take someone can be a struggle. Harold Murray, Sheila Littleton's grandfather, could no longer live safely in rural North Carolina because his worsening dementia led him to wander. She brought him to Houston in November 2020, then spent months trying to enroll him in the state's Medicaid program so he could be in a locked unit at a nursing home.

She felt she was getting the runaround. Nursing home after nursing home told her there were no beds, or quibbled over when and how he would be eligible for a bed under Medicaid. In desperation, she left him at a psychiatric hospital so it would find him a spot.

“I had to refuse to take him back home,” she said. “They had no choice but to place him.”

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He was finally approved for coverage in early 2022, at age 83.

A few months later, he died.

Reed Abelson is a health care reporter for The New York Times. The New York Times' Kirsten Noyes and graphics editor Albert Sun, KFF Health News data editor Holly K. Hacker, and JoNel Aleccia, formerly of KFF Health News, contributed to this report.

US Health and Retirement Study Analysis

The New York Times-KFF Health News data analysis was based on the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative longitudinal survey of about 20,000 people age 50 and older. The analysis defined people age 65 and above as likely to need long-term care if they were assessed to have dementia, or if they reported having difficulty with two or more of six specified activities of daily living: bathing, dressing, eating, getting in and out of bed, walking across a room, and using the toilet. The Langa-Weir classification of cognitive function, a related data set, was used to identify respondents with dementia. The analysis's definition of needing long-term care assistance is conservative and in line with the criteria most long-term care insurers use in determining whether they will pay for services.

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People were described as recipients of long-term care help if they reported receiving assistance in the month before the interview for the study or if they lived in a nursing home. The analysis was developed in consultation with Norma Coe, an associate professor of medical ethics and health policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

The financial toll on middle-class and upper-income people needing long-term care was examined by reviewing data that the HRS collected from 2000 to 2021 on wealthy Americans, those whose net worth at age 65 was in the 50th to 95th percentile, totaling anywhere from $171,365 to $1,827,765 in inflation-adjusted 2020 dollars. This group excludes the super-wealthy. Each individual's wealth at age 65 was compared with their wealth just before they died to calculate the percentage of affluent people who exhausted their financial resources and the likelihood that would occur among different groups.

To calculate how many people were likely to need long-term care, how many people needing long-term care services were receiving them, and who was providing care to people receiving help, we looked at people age 65 and older of all wealth levels in the 2020-21 survey, the most recent.

The U.S. Health and Retirement Study is conducted by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration.

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——————————
By: Reed Abelson, The New York Times and Jordan Rau, KFF Health News
Title: Facing Financial Ruin as Costs Soar for Elder Care
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/dying-broke-facing-financial-ruin-as-costs-soar-for-elder-care/
Published Date: Tue, 14 Nov 2023 10:35:00 +0000

Kaiser Health News

Despite Past Storms’ Lessons, Long-Term Care Residents Again Left Powerless

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Sandy
Mon, 15 Jul 2024 19:11:05 +0000

HOUSTON — As Tina Kitzmiller sat inside her sweltering apartment, windows and doors open in the hope of catching even the slightest breeze, she was frustrated and worried for her dog and her neighbors.

It had been days since Hurricane Beryl blew ashore from the of Mexico on July 8, causing widespread destruction and knocking out power to more than 2 million people, including the Houston senior independent living facility where Kitzmiller lives. Outdoor temperatures had reached at least 90 degrees most days, and the heat inside the building was stifling.

Kitzmiller moved there not long ago with Kai, her 12-year-old dog, shortly after riding out 90-plus-mph winds from a May derecho under a comforter on the floor of the 33-foot RV she called home. She didn't need medical care, as a nursing home would offer, and thought she and Kai could be safer at an independent senior facility than in the RV. She assumed her new home would have an emergency power system in place at least equivalent to that of the post offices she'd worked in for 35 years.

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“I checked out the food. I checked out the activities,” said Kitzmiller, 61, now retired. “I didn't know I needed to inquire about a generator.”

Even after multiple incidents of extreme weather — including a 2021 Texas winter storm that caused widespread blackouts and prompted a U.S. Senate investigation — not much has changed for those living in long-term care facilities when natural disasters strike in Texas or elsewhere.

“There has been some movement, but I think it's been way too slow,” said David Grabowski, a professor of policy at Harvard Medical School. “We keep getting tested and we keep failing the test. But I do think we are going to have to face this issue.”

A power outage can be difficult for anyone, but older adults are especially vulnerable to temperature extremes, with medications or medical conditions affecting their bodies' ability to regulate heat and cold. Additionally, some medications need refrigeration while others cannot get too cold.

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Federal guidelines require nursing homes to maintain safe indoor temperatures but do not regulate how. For example, facilities face no requirement that generators or other alternative energy sources support heating and conditioning systems. States are largely responsible for compliance, Grabowski said, and if states are failing in that regard, change doesn't happen.

Furthermore, while nursing homes face such federal oversight, lower-care-level facilities that some medical care — known as assisted living — are regulated at the level, so the rules for emergency preparedness vary widely.

Some states have toughened those guidelines. Maryland adopted rules for generators in assisted living facilities following Hurricane Isabel, which left more than 1.2 million residents in the state without power in 2003. Florida did so for nursing homes and assisted living facilities in 2018, after Hurricane Irma led to deaths at one facility.

But Texas has not. And no requirements for generators exist in Texas for the roughly 2,000 assisted living facilities or the even less regulated independent living sites, like Kitzmiller's.

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Generally, apartment complexes marketed to senior citizens, known in the industry as independent living facilities, don't have any special regulations in Texas and many other states.

Nationally, assisted living facilities and independent living facilities have been the fastest-growing sectors in senior living. Residents at such facilities often have medical needs, Grabowski said, but for a variety of reasons have chosen to live in an that allows more independence than a nursing home, which would provide medical care. That doesn't mean the residents in these lower-care-level facilities are any less susceptible to extreme temperatures when the power goes out.

“If you're overwhelmed by the heat in your apartment, that's unsafe,” he said.

Republican state Rep. Ed Thompson tried several times since 2020 to pass legislation requiring assisted living facilities in Texas to have backup generators. But the bills failed. He is not seeking reelection this year.

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“It's horrible what the state of Texas is doing,” said Thompson, blaming corporate greed and politicians more interested in stirring up their base and raising their national profile than improving the lives of Texans. “How we treat our elderly says something about us — and they're not being treated right.”

Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said at a July 11 press conference that senior facility operators are accountable if they do not keep residents safe. “That location is responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the and residents that are there,” he told reporters. “It is that facility's responsibility.”

Under Texas law, power restoration is supposed to be prioritized for nursing, assisted living, and hospice facilities.

The resistance to adding oversight or more governmental protections has not surprised Gregory Shelley, a senior manager at the Harris County Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at UTHealth Houston's Cizik School of Nursing. He said that while he believes the safety and health of residents are paramount, he recognizes that installing generators is expensive. He also said some people within the industry continue to believe extreme are rare.

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“But all of us in Houston this year already learned that they're happening more frequently,” Shelley said. “This is already the third time since May that big portions of Houston have been without power for long periods of time.”

After the 2021 blackouts, Texas' Health and Human Services Commission conducted a voluntary survey that found 47% of the assisted living and 99% of the nursing care facilities that responded reported having generators.

The U.S. Senate investigation following the 2021 Texas storm recommended a national requirement that assisted living facilities have emergency power supplies to both maintain safe temperatures and keep medical equipment running.

A 2023 annual report from Texas' long-term care ombudsman, Patty Ducayet, also recommended requiring generators at assisted living centers. The report suggested that all long-term care facilities maintain safe temperatures in a location that can be accessed by every resident. The report recommended requiring assisted living facilities to annually submit emergency response plans to state regulators to be reviewed by state officials. The recommendations have not been adopted.

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On July 15 — more than a week after Beryl hit — Kitzmiller said she just wanted the power back on. She praised the staff at her facility but said she worried for residents who were isolated on her building's second and third floors, which were hotter amid the outage. Some were unable to keep required medicine refrigerated, she said. And without functioning elevators, many couldn't get to the first floor, where it was cooler.

Mostly, Kitzmiller said, she was frustrated with companies and politicians who hadn't yet fixed the problem.

“It's their mothers, their grandmothers, and their in these homes, these facilities,” she said. “All I can think is ‘Shame on you.'”

——————————
By: Sandy West
Title: Despite Past Storms' Lessons, Long-Term Care Residents Again Left Powerless
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/texas-blackouts-nursing-homes-long-term-care-disaster-preparedness-power-outage-generators/
Published Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2024 19:11:05 +0000

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https://www.biloxinewsevents.com/5-cases-of-bird-flu-reported-in-colorado-poultry-workers-doublingthis-years-us-tally/

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Kaiser Health News

5 Cases of Bird Flu Reported in Colorado Poultry Workers, Doubling This Year’s US Tally

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Amy Maxmen
Mon, 15 Jul 2024 17:26:21 +0000

Five people who work at a poultry farm in northeastern Colorado have tested positive for the bird flu, the Colorado public health department reported July 14. This brings the known number of U.S. cases to nine.

The five people were likely infected by chickens, which they had been tasked with killing in response to a bird flu outbreak at the farm.

More than 99 million chickens and turkeys have been infected with a highly pathogenic strain of the bird flu that emerged at U.S. poultry farms in early 2022. Since then, the federal has compensated poultry farmers more than $1 billion for destroying infected flocks and eggs to keep outbreaks from spreading.

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The H5N1 bird flu virus has spread among poultry farms around the world for nearly 30 years. An estimated 900 people have been infected by birds, and roughly half have died from the disease.

The virus made an unprecedented shift this year to dairy cattle in the U.S. This poses a higher threat because it means the virus has adapted to replicate within cows' cells, which are more like human cells. The four other people diagnosed with bird flu this year in the U.S. worked on dairy farms with outbreaks.

Scientists have warned that the virus could mutate to spread from person to person, like the seasonal flu, and spark a pandemic. There's no sign of that, yet.

So far, all nine cases reported this year have been mild, consisting of eye irritation, a runny nose, and other respiratory symptoms. However, numbers remain too low to say anything certain about the disease because, in general, flu symptoms can vary among people with only a minority needing hospitalization.

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The number of people who have gotten the virus from poultry or cattle may be higher than nine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tested only about 60 people over the past four months, and powerful diagnostic laboratories that typically detect diseases remain barred from testing. Testing of farmworkers and animals is needed to detect the H5N1 bird flu virus, study it, and stop it before it becomes a fixture on farms.

Researchers have urged a more aggressive response from the CDC and other federal agencies to prevent future infections. Many people exposed regularly to livestock and poultry on farms still lack protective gear and education about the disease. And they don't yet have permission to get a bird flu vaccine.

Nearly a dozen virology and outbreak experts recently interviewed by KFF Health News disagree with the CDC's against vaccination, which may prevent bird flu infection and hospitalization.

“We should be doing everything we can to eliminate the chances of dairy and poultry workers contracting this virus,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the of Saskatchewan in Canada. “If this virus is given enough opportunities to jump from cows or poultry into people, it will eventually get better at infecting them.”

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To understand whether cases are going undetected, researchers in Michigan have sent the CDC blood samples from workers on dairy farms. If they detect bird flu antibodies, it's likely that people are more easily infected by cattle than previously believed.

“It's possible that folks may have had symptoms that they didn't feel comfortable , or that their symptoms were so mild that they didn't think they were worth mentioning,” said Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive for the of Michigan.

In hopes of thwarting a potential pandemic, the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and about a dozen other countries are stockpiling millions of doses of a bird flu vaccine made by the vaccine company CSL Seqirus.

Seqirus' most recent formulation was greenlighted last year by the European equivalent of the FDA, and an earlier version has the FDA's approval. In June, Finland decided to offer vaccines to people who work on fur farms as a precaution because its mink and fox farms were hit by bird flu last year.

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The CDC has controversially decided not to offer at-risk groups bird flu vaccines. Demetre Daskalakis, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told KFF that the agency is not recommending a vaccine campaign at this point for several reasons, even though millions of doses are available. One is that cases still appear to be limited, and the virus isn't spreading rapidly between people as they sneeze and breathe.

The agency continues to rate the public's risk as low. In a statement posted in response to the new Colorado cases, the CDC said its bird flu recommendations remain the same: “An assessment of these cases will help inform whether this situation warrants a change to the human health risk assessment.”

——————————
By: Amy Maxmen
Title: 5 Cases of Bird Flu Reported in Colorado Poultry Workers, Doubling This Year's US Tally
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/five-bird-flu-cases-colorado-poultry-workers-virus-spread/
Published Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2024 17:26:21 +0000

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Kaiser Health News

California Health Care Pioneer Goes National, Girds for Partisan Skirmishes

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Samantha Young
Mon, 15 Jul 2024 09:00:00 +0000

SACRAMENTO — When then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for nearly all Californians to buy insurance or face a penalty, Anthony Wright slammed the 2007 proposal as “unwarranted, unworkable, and unwise” — one that would punish those who could least afford coverage. The head of Health Access California, one of the state's most influential consumer groups, changed course only after he and his allies extracted a deal to increase subsidies for people in need.

The plan was ultimately blocked by Democrats who wanted the state to adopt a single-payer health care system instead. Yet the moment encapsulates classic Anthony Wright: independent-minded and willing to compromise if it could Californians live healthier lives without going broke.

This summer, Wright will assume the helm of the health consumer group Families USA, taking his campaign for more affordable and accessible health care to the national level and a deeply divided Congress. In his 23 years in Sacramento, Wright has successfully lobbied to outlaw surprise medical billing, require companies to drug price increases, and cap hospital bills for uninsured — policies that have spread nationwide.

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“He pushed the envelope and gave people aspirational leadership,” said Jennifer Kent, who served as Schwarzenegger's head of the Department of Health Care Services, which administers the state Medicaid program. The two were often on opposing sides on health policy issues. “There was always, like, one more thing, one more goal, one more thing to achieve.”

Recently, Wright co-led a coalition of labor and immigrant rights activists to provide comprehensive Medicaid benefits to all eligible California residents regardless of immigration status. The state funds this coverage because the federal doesn't allow it.

His wins have mostly under Democratic governors and legislatures and when Republican hasn't been needed. That will not be the case in Washington, D.C., where Republicans currently control the House and the Senate Democratic Caucus has a razor-thin majority, which has made it extremely difficult to pass substantive legislation. November's elections are not expected to ease the partisan impasse.

Though both Health Access and Families USA are technically nonpartisan, they tend to align with Democrats and lobby for Democratic policies, including abortion rights. But “Anthony doesn't just talk to his own people,” said David Panush, a veteran Sacramento health policy consultant. “He has an ability to connect with people who don't agree with you on everything.”

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Wright, who interned for Vice President Al Gore and worked as a consumer advocate at the Federal Communications Commission in his 20s, acknowledges his job will be tougher in the nation's capital, and said he is “wide-eyed about the dysfunction” there. He said he also plans to work directly with state lawmakers, including encouraging those in the 10, mostly Republican states that have not yet expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to do so.

In an interview with California Healthline senior correspondent Samantha Young, Wright, 53, discussed his accomplishments in Sacramento and the challenges he will face leading a national consumer advocacy group. His remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Is there something California has done that you'd like to see other states or the federal government adopt?

Just saying “We did this in California” is not going to get me very far in 49 other states. But stuff that has already gone national, like the additional assistance to buy health care coverage with state subsidies, that became something that was a model for what the federal government did in the American Rescue Plan [Act] and the Reduction Act. Those additional tax credits have had a huge impact. About 5 million Americans have coverage because of them. Yet, those additional tax credits expire in 2025. If those tax credits expire, the average premium will spike $400 a month.

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Q: You said you will find yourself playing defense if former President Donald Trump is elected in November. What do you mean?

Our health is on the ballot. I worry about the Affordable Care Act and the protections for preexisting conditions, the help for people to afford coverage, and all the other consumer patient protections. I think reproductive health is obviously front and center, but that's not the only thing that could be taken away. It could also be something like Medicare's authority to negotiate prices on prescription drugs.

Q: But Trump has said he doesn't want to repeal the ACA this time, rather “make it better.”

We just need to look at the record of what was proposed during his first term, which would have left millions more people uninsured, which would have spiked premiums, which would have gotten rid of key patient protections.

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Q: What's on your agenda if President Joe Biden wins reelection?

It partially depends on the makeup of Congress and other elected officials. Do you extend this guarantee that nobody has to spend more than 8.5% of their income on coverage? Are there benefits that we can actually improve in Medicare and Medicaid with regard to vision and dental? What are the cost drivers in our health system?

There is a lot we can do at both the state and the federal level to get people both access to health care and also financial security, so that their health emergency doesn't become a financial emergency as well.

Q: Will it be harder to get things done in a polarized Washington?

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The dysfunction of D.C. is a real thing. I don't have delusions that I have any special powers, but we will try to do our best to make progress. There are still very stark differences, whether it's about the Affordable Care Act or, more broadly, about the social safety net. But there's always opportunities for advancing an agenda.

There could be a lot of common ground on areas like health care costs and having greater oversight and accountability for quality in cost and quality in value, for fixing market failures in our health system.

Q: What would happen in California if the ACA were repealed?

When there was the big threat to the ACA, a lot of people thought, “Can't California just do its own thing?” Without the tens of billions of dollars that the Affordable Care Act provides, it would have been very hard to sustain. If you get rid of those subsidies, and 5 million Californians lose their coverage, it becomes a smaller and sicker risk pool. Then premiums spike up for everybody, and, basically, the market becomes a death spiral that will cover nobody, healthy or sick.

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Q: California expanded Medicaid to qualified immigrants living in the state without authorization. Do you think that could happen at the federal level?

Not at the moment. I would probably be more focused on the states that are not providing Medicaid to American citizens [who] just happen to be low-income. They are turning away precious dollars that are available for them.

Q: What do you take away from your time at Health Access that will help you in Washington?

It's very rare that anything of consequence is done in a year. In many cases, we've had to a bill or pursue a policy for multiple years or sessions. So, the power of persistence is that if you never give up, you're never defeated, only delayed. Prescription drug price transparency took three years, surprise medical bills took three years, the hospital fair-pricing act took five years.

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Having a coalition of consumer voices is important. Patients and the public are not just another stakeholder. Patients and the public are the point of the health care system.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

——————————
By: Samantha Young
Title: California Health Care Pioneer Goes National, Girds for Partisan Skirmishes
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org//article/anthony-wright-qa-families-usa-health-policy/
Published Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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