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Medicare & Coronavirus

Your health, safety, and welfare in the face of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is our highest priority. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung, or kidney disease seem to be at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness. Older people may be twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness. This means that most people with Medicare are at higher risk.

Note
For the latest information on the coronavirus, including travel advisories, visit the CDC’s website.

Precautions to take now

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean your hands often.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being out in public, blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places, like elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, and handshaking with people. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, and eyes.
  • Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: Practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces—tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks and cell phones.

Extra caution with crowds and travel

  • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick. 
  • The CDC recommends that you defer all cruise ship travel worldwide, particularly if you also have underlying health issues.
  • Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put you at increased risk for more severe disease. In addition to avoiding crowded places, you should avoid non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.

Preparing for healthcare needs

  • Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (like tissues) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
  • Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you’ll be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.

Medicare covers related needs

  • Medicare covers the lab tests for COVID-19. You pay no out-of-pocket costs .
  • Medicare covers all medically necessary hospitalizations. This includes if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 and might otherwise have been discharged from the hospital after an inpatient stay, but instead you need to stay in the hospital under quarantine.
  • At this time, there’s no vaccine for COVID-19. However, if one becomes available, it will be covered by all Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D).
  • If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you have access to these same benefits. Medicare allows these plans to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 lab tests. Many plans offer additional telehealth benefits beyond the ones described below. Check with your plan about your coverage and costs.

Telehealth & related services

Medicare covers “virtual check-ins” so you can connect with your doctor by phone or video, or even an online patient portal, to see whether you need to come in for a visit. If you’re concerned about illness and are potentially contagious, this offers you an easy way to remain at home and avoid exposure to others.

  • You may be able to communicate with your doctors or certain other practitioners without necessarily going to the doctor’s office in person for a full visit. Medicare pays for “virtual check-ins”—brief, virtual services with your established physician or certain practitioners where the communication isn’t related to a medical visit within the previous 7 days and doesn’t lead to a medical visit within the next 24 hours (or soonest appointment available).
  • You need to consent verbally to using virtual check-ins and your doctor must document that consent in your medical record before you use this service. You pay your usual Medicare coinsurance and deductible for these services.
  • Medicare also pays for you to communicate with your doctors using online patient portals without going to the doctor’s office. Like the virtual check-ins, you must initiate these individual communications.
  • If you live in a rural area, you may use communication technology to have full visits with your doctors. The law requires that these visits take place at specified sites of service, known as telehealth originating sites, and get services using a real-time audio and video communication system at the site to communicate with a remotely located doctor or certain other types of practitioners. Medicare pays for many medical visits through this telehealth benefit.

Other ways Medicare is helping

Every day, Medicare is responsible for developing and enforcing the essential health and safety requirements that health care providers must meet. When you go to a healthcare provider, you expect a certain standard of care, and we work to make sure you get it. That includes taking additional steps in response to coronavirus:

  • Establishing new codes to allow providers to correctly bill for services related to diagnosis and treatment of the illness.
  • Instructing our national network of State Survey Agencies and Accrediting Organizations to focus all their efforts on infection prevention and other cases of abuse and neglect in nursing homes and hospitals.
  • Instructing nursing homes and hospitals to review their infection control procedures, which they’re required to maintain at all times.
  • Issuing important guidance answering questions that nursing homes may have with respect to addressing cases of COVID-19.
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Senate Unanimously Approves Older Americans Act Reauthorization!

March 3, 2020

Senators today capped off a year-long advocacy effort to reauthorize the federal Older Americans Act (OAA) by unanimously approving the bipartisan, bicameral bill, the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020, H.R. 4334, to authorize funding for and operation of vital OAA programs through 2024!
 
“n4a is thrilled that the Senate has passed the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020,” said n4a CEO Sandy Markwood in a statement“This bill is the result of months of negotiations among Senate and House leadership, as well as aging policy advocates and n4a members here in Washington and around the country.”
 
Because the House and Senate must pass identical pieces of legislation, H.R. 4334 now heads back across Capitol Hill where we are hopeful that Representatives will take up the measure swiftly.
 
While a modest piece of legislation—as most bipartisan bills are—the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020 contains many of n4a’s OAA reauthorization priorities. n4a also endorsed the measure last month and led an effort securing support for the bill from 120 other national organizations!
 
What’s in H.R. 4334?
 
For full details on what is in the bill and the implications for n4a members, see n4a’s member-only resource, Analysis of Key Provisions

Need something shorter? Here is our short list of key provisions promoted by n4a and included in the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020:

  • Reauthorizing the OAA for five years through FY 2024
  • Increasing authorized funding levels: a seven percent increase is recommended for the first year, with six percent increases in each subsequent year through FY 2024, totaling a 35 percent increase over five years
  • Language clarifying that AAAs can, outside of the OAA, engage in private pay, integrated care and other arrangements to expand services
  • Removing the Title III E funding cap on grandfamilies and older relative caregivers
  • Authorizing an HCBS grant demonstration program for Title VI Native American aging programs to enhance the capacity of Title VI programs to support wrap-around supportive services to Native American elders in tribal country. The bill also authorizes $500k in additional annual funding for Title VI programs
  • Establishing a research, demonstration and evaluation center for the Aging Network to improve assessment and promote advancement of the relationship between OAA programs and services and health outcomes
  • Encouraging states to work with AAAs to address potential administrative barriers to transferring funds between nutrition programs to best meet local needs

 
Next Steps
 
While we don’t anticipate major hurdles to House approval, it’s important for aging advocates to connect with lawmakers from their communities about the importance of supporting Older Americans Act reauthorization. It’s also a fantastic way to engage your local grassroots—they drive positive calls and emails to the House and then can join us in celebrating its passage!
 
Use n4a’s Advocacy Alert for ideas to engage your grassroots and community stakeholders and we encourage you to use the tools and templates provided in n4a’s OAA Reauthorization Toolkit to assist your efforts!
 
OAA reauthorization is almost to the finish line, but it will take all voices weighing in to get it done soon!
 
And, it’s not too late to register for the upcoming n4a Aging Policy Briefing & Capitol Hill Day, March 17-18 in Washington, DC, to stay fully up-to-date on the latest news on OAA reauthorization, implementation, funding and many other critical aging and health care policy updates!

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This Legislative Update is an n4a membership benefit. For more information about these and other federal aging policy issues, please contact n4a’s policy team: Amy Gotwals and Autumn Campbell at policy@n4a.org, 202.872.0888.

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Avoid Census Scams this Spring

February 24, 2020

As the Census comes upon us in the coming months we want to help protect you from any potentials scams that fraudsters could use during this time period.

One of the scams that fraudsters are using is sending out a fake questionnaire to Medicare beneficiaries asking for their Medicare number and other personal information. Medicare will never call you unsolicited or send you any mail unsolicited.

To verify that mail received from the Census Bureau is legitimate look for these key details:

  • Look for either the U.S. Department of Commerce or the U.S. Census Bureau in the return address.
  • Check that the return address is located in Jeffersonville, IN.
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Illinois Aging Network Alert: January 14, 2020 A report of the impact Area Agencies on Aging have on Illinois seniors.

The 2020 Census is Critically Important to Older Adults.

 As you know, the Area Agency on Aging in your district is funded by the Federal Older Americans Act (OAA) as well as Illinois GRF and private funds. The thirteen Area Agencies on Aging collectively serve over 500,000 older adults in Illinois each year. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the public funds used to provide such services to older Illinoisans comes from the Federal Older Americans Act. 

Funds flow to the Illinois Department on Aging based on census data. It is critical that we have an accurate count of older adults. Each Area Agency on Aging and their program partners are conducting CENSUS 2020 outreach activities to the people they serve and local communities. Examples range from making public presentations to putting placemats on the tables at Senior Centers. 

YOUR HELP IS NEEDED! If you are speaking to your constituents in a group setting, we would value the opportunity to join you in making a short presentation on CENSUS 2020 and its importance. 

The services provided by Area Agencies on Aging helped divert an estimated 183,903 adults from long-term care facilities in 2018, resulting in cost savings to those individuals and tax payers. Our programs, such as Home-Delivered Meals, are cost effective and help keep older adults healthier and remain independent. In 2018 it was estimated the Area Agencies on Aging served 21% of the older population in Illinois and saved over $16.4 billion in healthcare costs. 

Thank you for helping us share the message about the importance of completing the census. 

Author – Joy Paeth, Chief Executive Officer, AgeSmart Community Resources 

For more information, contact Susan C. Real, Legislative Chair (309-829-2065 ext. 218) or Marla Fronczak, I4A President (630-293-5990). 

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MEMORY CAFES PROVIDE SUPPORT, FRIENDSHIP & CONNECTIONS.

BY MISSY ATHMER,
Marketing Director, St. John’s Community Care

St. John’s rings in 2020 with kindness and love for people who are struggling to care for a loved one with dementia. We know caregiving can be stressful and lonely. St. John’s wants to be there when you need us to help shoulder a bit of the burden by providing resources, support, and socialization. We have organized Memory Cafes which are a way for people to express themselves, laugh and have a good time. Cafes are a safe place where it’s OK to be who you are. We all understand and accept if a loved one repeats themselves or if their words are slow to come out. 

 “We are delighted to be offering  Memory Cafes and helping people to be able to socialize with others, so they do not feel isolated,” said Gail Shaw, Dementia Care Specialist – Coordinator of Training & Support for St. John’s Community Care. She went on to say, “There are times when people don’t recognize my face, but they recognize kindness and appreciate having a purpose. It’s very gratifying for me to be able to help provide a bit of relief  for people who are faced with this situation and help support them on this journey.” Everyone is encouraged to share experiences and reminisce on many topics. Snacks, crafts, and fun activities are ways we bring a little joy to the group.   For a list of dates and locations, see page 3.

“I recently attended a Memory Café at the Collinsville Senior Center with my wife.  I had read an article about Memory Cafes in Europe and how well they were being received.  I hoped that maybe someone in our area would begin one.  I was excited when I saw that St. John’s was starting one up. As my wife’s Alzheimer’s has progressed, it has become harder and harder to take her out in public. Trips out shopping or out to lunch or going to a movie get more and more challenging.  At the same time my wife gets more insistent that she wants to go somewhere!  The Memory Cafe provides a space where caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia can get together to socialize, reminisce, do crafts, etc.  Our facilitator, Gail, had us making a Christmas ornament and hanging it on a tree.”    Billy

By Gail Shaw
Coordinator of
Training & Support
Dementia Care Specialist

 It is not uncommon for the family caregiver to feel a sense of isolation as they continue their journey into caregiving. As the person with dementia progresses, caregivers find themselves doing more hands-on care for their loved one. Family caregivers find it harder to get out into the community to do routine activities by themselves. They may also become aware of slowing down and getting away from having the two of them socializing with others.
   Social isolation is a result of the lack of opportunities for social engagement and mental stimulation, according to AARP. Individuals who find themselves isolated from family, friends and their community are more likely to be depressed and have health problems. One may feel hopeless.
   Dr. Bere Miesen, a Dutch psychiatrist, noticed the person with Alzheimer’s and their caregiver were becoming more isolated as the Alzheimer’s disease progressed. This isolation was then seen to have a negative impact on both the client and the family member. Both were suffering.
   Dr. Miesen felt a need to reach out to those suffering so he created the concept of Memory Cafes in 1997 to combat social isolation. His Memory Cafes were a big hit with those feeling isolated. This new concept spread through Europe, to Ireland and England, Australia and now is in the United Sates.
   The main goal of a Memory Cafe is to reduce the social isolation for the family caregiver and the one living with memory loss. It does this by offering a safe, welcoming and mentally stimulating environment for the caregiver and their loved one. Cafes can be held in a variety of venues such as senior centers, libraries, museums, restaurants or coffee cafes.
   Memory Cafes are not a support group or a place to “drop off” your loved one or to be used as respite care. Cafes are for both the caregiver and person with memory loss to attend together. It is a place where both can socialize with others. The members may listen to music, play games or engage in a variety of creative activities. Each month will have a different activity. Refreshments are offered.
   St. John’s Community Care is now offering three Memory Cafes each month. We have one at the Collinsville Senior Center and another at Main Street Community Center in Edwardsville.  A third café will be starting in January at Senior Services Plus in Alton.    Registration is requested.
   A Memory Café may be the answer to helping those experiencing social isolation. If you are interested in finding out more about a Memory Café close to you, call St. John’s Community Care at 618-344-5008 for more information.

Visit this link to read the full newsletter: https://stjohnscc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Jan.-2020.pdf

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Many Caregivers Neglect Their Own Health

Medical costs and lack of insurance are major factors, study finds

by Peter Urban, AARP, January 24, 2020

https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2020/caregivers-health-burden.html?intcmp=AE-HP-TTN-R2-POS3-REALPOSS-TODAY

Caregivers, who often spend years assisting a loved one or friend, are more likely to neglect their health, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

Based on a 2015 phone survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of nearly 110,000 people, the study found that those who said they regularly care for or assist a family member or friend with a health problem or disability (24,034 respondents) were less likely to have health care coverage or seek needed health services than other Americans. Nearly two-thirds (64.5 percent) of caregivers were women.

“Caregivers had a 26 percent higher risk of not having health care coverage, compared with non-caregivers, and they were at a significantly higher risk, a 59 percent additional risk, for not going to the doctor or getting a necessary health service due to cost,” Jacob Bentley, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University, said in a statement.


Get resources and tips to help take the stress out of caregiving with AARP’s Care Guides


Bentley, corresponding author of the study, which was published in the journal Rehabilitation Psychology, noted that caregivers were also at greater risk of having a depressive disorder and more likely to report experiencing at least one limitation to daily activities because of physical, mental or emotional problems.

The results were not entirely unexpected. Previous research has shown that caregiving can make it more difficult to find a job or get ahead at work; plus, the need for a flexible schedule can diminish earnings. But the researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the problem.

“While we expected caregivers to be more at risk in these areas, we were concerned to learn of the extent of these risks and barriers to health care access encountered by caregivers,” Bentley said. “Given the scope of difficulties acquiring health care coverage and utilizing needed services in this large national sample, we believe our findings warrant additional research and likely the development of low-cost and accessible services that meet the multifaceted needs of caregivers.”

The survey found that nearly half (49.7 percent) of caregivers had been in this role for two years or longer. And while more than half (54.7 percent) provided up to eight hours of care a week, 22.7 percent put in 20 or more hours. Personal care (medications, feeding, dressing and bathing) was provided by 50.6 percent of poll respondents. Household tasks (cleaning, managing money and preparing meals) were done by 77.1 percent.

The vast majority of caregivers (79.3 percent) said they had no need for support services, such as classes about providing care, help in getting access to services, support groups, individual counseling to help cope with caregiving, or respite care.

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Inspector General Warns Public About New Twist To Social Security Phone Scams

Posted on January 9, 2020 by Tracy Lynge, Communications Director for the Office of the Inspector General

The Inspector General of Social Security, Gail S. Ennis, is warning the public that telephone scammers may send faked documents by email to convince victims to comply with their demands. The Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has received reports of victims who received emails with attached letters and reports that appeared to be from Social Security or Social Security OIG. The letters may use official letterhead and government “jargon” to convince victims they are legitimate; they may also contain misspellings and grammar mistakes.

This is the latest variation on Social Security phone scams, which continue to be widespread throughout the United States. Using robocalls or live callers, fraudsters pretend to be government employees and claim there is identity theft or another problem with one’s Social Security number, account, or benefits. They may threaten arrest or other legal action, or may offer to increase benefits, protect assets, or resolve identity theft. They often demand payment via retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency such as Bitcoin, or pre-paid debit card.

Inspector General Ennis urges continued vigilance against all types of phone scams no matter what “proof” callers may offer. As we continue to increase public awareness of phone scams, criminals will come up with new ways to convince people of their legitimacy. Social Security will never:

  • threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee;
  • promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment;
  • require payment by retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency, or prepaid debit card; or
  • send official letters or reports containing personally identifiable information via email.

If there is ever a problem with your Social Security number or record, in most cases Social Security will mail you a letter. If you do need to submit payments to Social Security, the agency will send a letter with instructions and payment options. You should never pay a government fee or fine using retail gift cards, cash, internet currency, wire transfers, or pre-paid debit cards. The scammers ask for payment this way because it is very difficult to trace and recover. If you receive a call or email that you believe to be suspicious, about a problem with your Social Security number or account, hang up or do not respond. We encourage the public to report Social Security phone scams using our dedicated online form, at https://oig.ssa.gov. Please share this

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ARE YOU A CAREGIVER? AgeSmart can help.

Caring for an older adult family member or friend can be a daunting task.  So many times, the caregiver can exhaust themselves.  You do not have to go it alone.  AgeSmart can help with services and resources to help you make this very important role of a caregiver easier.

Caregiver Resource Specialist

AgeSmart’s Caregiver Resource Specialists can link you to services to help you meet the needs of the person you are caring for.  Each and every situation is different, and they can help you customize a plan for the person you are caring for.  Using a comprehensive resource data base, they can give you guidance and options for your loved one’s care. 

National ElderCare Locator

The National ElderCare Locator is also available for you if you are caring an individual in another state.  Access the ElderCare locator at https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx   or call 1-800-677-1116. You can find the local Area Agency on Aging in that person’s community. 

Respite Care

Sometimes a simple break from your caregiving role can help you, the caregiver, get a needed break.  AgeSmart offers a Respite program which pays the caregiver a monthly stipend that they can use to purchase care allowing them to get out of the house. 

Caregiver Counseling

Short-term counseling is available for St. Clair, Madison and Bond County residents, related to topics of aging, illness, grief, life events, caregiving and community resources.  The counselors are available by appointment for in the home of homebound individuals.

Savvy Caregiver

If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease Savvy Caregiver teaches the basic knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to handle the challenges of caring for someone with the disease.  Savvy Caregiver training program will help you reduce your distress effectively so you can focus on the task of being a caregiver.

Stress Busting for Caregivers

The Impact of stress on your health and its relationship to your caregiving is significant.  Stress busting helps you deal with stress through relaxation techniques and problem solving.  It also teaches you how to care for yourself while providing better care for your loved one. Participants in the program are given everything needed including a session handbook and online access to a meditation exercise and relaxation strategy videos. Caregivers who have completed this program feel significantly lower stress, depression, and anxiety and are able to enjoy a better quality of life. They have also experienced improvement in their ability to relax, manage stress and feel better about themselves.

Memory Cafes

If you are living with a person with dementia is sometimes difficult to get out and do simple things with your loved one like going to dinner.  You may be concerned about your loved one’s behavior or abilities and therefore just stay home.  Cafés provide a comfortable environment where can meet with other caregivers and their loved ones and participate in activities. 

Legal Services

Having your legal documents in order is very important.  AgeSmart provides funding to Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation to assist with legal issues caregivers face. 

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

In Illinois, more than 200,000 children are being raised in grandparent-headed homes.  If you are one of these grandparents help is available for you.  Assistance can range from financial assistance, guardianship, legal and Information and assistance.

Advice from caregivers to caregivers:

  • Ask for help.  Do not try to do it all yourself.
  • Never make promises you can’t keep.
  • Trust your instincts, most of the time they will lead you in the right direction. 
  • Educate yourself on your loved one’s condition.  This will help you communicate with doctors. 
  • Breathe!

Services provided by AgeSmart are available to everyone 60 and older for only a suggested contribution.  For more information call AgeSmart at 618-222-2561.

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