Virtual Reality Headset Helps Seniors in Assisted Living Explore the World

The Albany Times Union featured a story on Monday about how seniors in assisted living facilities are enjoying using virtual reality headsets to explore locations throughout the world as if they were there. The effort is part of the outreach by a for profit company seeking to provide activities using technology for older persons in facilities

Here is a link to the story

https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Schenectady-assisted-living-center-adopts-virtual-14486514.php

128,000 Use New York’s Paid Family Leave in 2018; 26,000 Care for Parents, Spouse

New York State’s Paid Family Leave program has released its first annual report for 2018, its first year of operation. The report indicates that 128,000 persons used the program in 2018. 89,000 used it to care for a newborn. Another 39,000 used paid leave for “family care,” caring for an ill member of the family. Of those 16,000 were using the program to care for a parent and 9900 to care for a spouse. 600 used the program to care for a grandparent. The remainder of those in the family care category were caring for children.

Those caring for newborns used an average of 33 days of paid leave, while those caring for a sick family member used an average of 21 days. The ages of those using the program for family care hovered around 1000 for age groups from 35-60 with the highest being about 1100 persons at age 56 using the program. Of those caring for a sick family member, 27,400 were women and 10,900 were men. 17,600 used the program for continuous care of a sick relative while over 16,000 used the program periodically during the year.

The program began on January 1, 2018 and is having its maximum benefits phased in through January 1, 2021. In 2018, the workers in the first year of the program were able to take up to eight weeks of paid leave at 50% of their average weekly wage. This year the maximum is ten weeks of leave at 55% of their average pay up to the statewide average weekly wage. By 2021, when fully phased in, the program will offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave at 67% of a workers average weekly waged capped at 67% of the stateside average weekly wage. Over 8 million New Yorkers are eligible for the program.

To read the full report from the state go to http://www.paidfamilyleave.ny.gov and click on the report on the home page.

Movement Growing for Long Term Care Benefit in States; Washington State Enacts Program

The movement to add a long term care benefit in the states is picking up momentum after the state of Washington enacted such a program that was signed by Governor Jay Inslee in May.  The program is financed by a 58/100 percent payroll tax into a state fund that will take about $300 annually from employees paychecks.  Those deductions are mandatory starting in 2022 for all workers except some who work part-time on a limited basis.  After ten years, a person would be eligible for a $100 daily allowance to pay for a number of services including home modifications, reimbursement for family caregivers, stays in assisted living and in home help.  The benefit would begin in 2025 after just three years for those with catastrophic health needs.   Most persons will be eligible if they need help with three “activities of daily living.”

The benefit is not intended to meet all the long term care needs of seriously ill persons. It would help persons with short term care that may be needed or to delay the eventual need for more extensive care or placement in a nursing home.

The program allows benefits up to a lifetime total of $36,000 that will be indexed for inflation.  The fund will collect about $1 billion per year and will save $34 million annually in health costs when started, according to one estimate.

There are 14 million middle income seniors who do not qualify for Medicaid or cannot afford provide long term care insurance.  It has been pointed out that the Washington program helps caregivers.  Washington has a $15 minimum wage so Sterling Harders, a union leader in health care noted that the new program will “help ensure that the caregivers who are providing this care are skilled, that they are trained, that they are certified, that they are paid fairly for the work they’re doing.

Michigan, Illinois and California are three other states that are seriously considering similar long term care programs.  Some of the Democratic presidential candidates want to enact long term care benefits at the federal level or include them in a Medicare for All plan. Also, Medicare is now allowing Medicare Advantage plans to include some community services including meals and transportation to be included in their plans.

Capital District Health Insurer Opens First Local “Customer Connect” Office in Hospital

The Capital District Physicians Health Plan (CDPHP), a nonprofit insurer in the Capital District and eastern part of New York State, has opened its first customer assistance office in a hospital at Schenectady’s Ellis Hospital.  The office called Customer Connect is the kind of program that consumer advocates have been hoping to see as health care is being transformed to be more patient centered.  The office will have several staff on hand to assist patients with insurance questions, medication management, facilitating transportation to follow up medical appointments and coordination with primary care physicians.    Dr. John Bennett, CEO of CDPHP, said that the goal is “to improve the patient care experience”  and to have “satisfied members and satisfied patients.”

Senior and health consumer advocates have been supportive of programs like community patient navigators who would perform similar functions outside the hospital. Advocates and service providers want to be involved and coordinate post hospital care to help reduce hospital re-admissions.  Hospital and health providers have emphasized in recent years that “social determinants of health” such as transportation, housing and nutrition, have a great impact on the ability of patients, especially the poor and elderly, to successfully follow improve their health status after an illness.

CDPHP is looking to establish similar programs with the two major hospitals and health system in the City of Albany, Albany Medical Center and St. Peters.

Albany Area Approved for New Jesuit Volunteer Program for Persons Age 50+

The national board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (ivcusa.org) has approved an application from an organizing committee in Albany to open a site for the program in six counties in the Albany area (Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Fulton and Montgomery).   The IVC is a Jesuit Catholic program open to persons 50 and older of any faith who want to volunteer in a community or a church agency serving the poor.  They make a commitment to serve for one or two days per week for ten months of the year.  The Albany site has been in the planning stage for over two years.  The program is expected to begin in the Albany area in the fall.  Over the summer, those who have expressed interest in serving will be matched with the agencies offering volunteer positions.  It is expected the volunteers who bring lifelong work experience to the placements and will serve in positions with more responsibility than most volunteer positions.   There will be about fifteen volunteers and placements as the program begins.  Catholic Charities of the Albany Diocese, Family Promise, St. Vincent’s Church (Albany), St. Catherine’s Center for Children, the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI- Albany) are among the agencies which will have volunteers.

The IVC began in the mid 1990s as a related program to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) which was established many years earlier for young persons following college.  JVC volunteers still work and live in community together at many sites across the country.  The IVC volunteers will live in their own homes.  Both programs have a spiritual component.  IVC volunteers will meet and share spiritually in the Ignatian tradition on a monthly basis.  They also will have access a spiritual reflector during their service.  The Jesuits in the Catholic Church were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

NY State Medical Society Maintains Opposition to Aid in Dying/Assisted Suicide Bill

Here is the press release from the Medical Society of the State of New York.  Advocates for legislation to support aid in dying/assisted suicide had a lobby day today (May 14) to push for the bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Diane Savino.  Governor Cuomo weighed in on the issue in recent weeks saying the bill needs to be addressed.  New Jersey passed similar legislation but Maryland and Connecticut defeated attempts to pass the bill.  The legislation here in New York still does not seem to have enough votes to pass.  It has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the health committees of the Assembly or Senate.

For Immediate Release
May 14, 2019

MSSNY Statement re: Medical Aid in Dying

Statement attributable to:
Arthur Fougner, MD
President, Medical Society of the State of New York

“As physicians, we value the importance of each person’s life. There are great disparities in access and quality of care at the end of life and we are particularly concerned about the impact of Medical Aid in Dying on vulnerable populations.

“Medical Aid in Dying is a complex issue with great variations in the wishes of patients as to the application of care as they approach the end of their natural lifespan or are faced with a terminal illness. The Medical Society of the State of New York is opposed to physician assisted suicide, but we continue to examine the issue through MSSNY’s  Task Force on End of Life Care, which is looking at all aspects of the issue.  MSSNY is committed to work with physicians and groups on both sides of this difficult question to improve access and quality of palliative care for all of our patients, particularly in their last days.“

“60 Minutes” Highlights Major Lawsuit Against Generic Drug Makers

CBS News 60 Minutes newsmagazine broadcast a major story on Sunday night about a lawsuit brought by the State of Connecticut and forty other states against major generic drug makers, charging them with a conspiracy to price gouge and limit competition.  The program said this may be the “biggest price fixing scheme in US history.”  The Attorney General of Connecticut William Tong appeared on the program and noted the outrageous increases in drug prices.  The broadcast reported:

Between 2013 and  2014, a bottle of doxycycline shot up 8,281 percent from $20 to more than $1800. A bottle of asthma medication, albuterol sulfate, jumped more than 4000 percent, from $11 to $434. Pravastatin, a cholesterol drug, up more than 500 percent, from $27 a bottle to $196.

The drug companies said that prices rose due to shortages and market forces.  Attorney General Tong, said that the generic drug makers are “too big to care” about the impact of the drug increases.  He showed how investigators had phone records showing how prices were driven up by several major generic drug companies within hours after their executives had phone conversations and told each other they were raising prices.

Tong said:  “We have evidence, hard evidence, in the form of text messages, emails, documents, witnesses that demonstrate clearly that it wasn’t about product shortages. It was about profit. It was about cold, hard greed.”

The report also said, “It all snapped into sharp focus when he matched phone logs to thousands of text messages from Heritage Pharmaceuticals. This exchange, with competitor Citron Pharma, showed collusion to increase the price of a diabetes medication. The text messages implicate two other companies: Aurobindo and Teva, the world’s largest generic drug maker. The national accounts manager at Heritage wrote:

A.S.: “We are raising the price right now — just letting you know, Teva says they will follow”
A.S.: “Aurobindo agrees too”

A corporate account representative from Citron answered:

KA: “…we are def [initely] in to raise pricing … are doing this immediately”

The Heritage executive responded:

AS: “We are raising our customers 200% over current market price.”

A director of a health care clinic in a rural southern Illinois area said that Medicaid and Medicare cap what they pay for generic prices so patients have to pay the difference and are struggling to do so.

Here’s a link to the story:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sweeping-lawsuit-accuses-top-generic-drug-companies-executives-of-fixing-prices-60-minutes-2019-05-12/