Elder Law, Healthcare

Creating an effective COVID-19 Vaccine for Seniors is a Challenge

Older Americans, who are the most at risk of COVID-19, are the least likely demographic to respond well to a vaccine. A vaccine shot works by fooling the body into believing it has been infected with a virus, thereby prompting its immune system to fight the intruding pathogen by making antibodies. Unfortunately, as we age, antibody production weakens, part of the process known as immunosenescence. A compromised immune system makes older adults more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. The Wall Street Journal reports that 90 percent of flu deaths in the US every year are people over the age of 65.

What’s age got to do with the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The thymus, located center of your chest just below the neckline between the lungs, is a major source of pathogen fighting T-cells. Some of these specialized cells help the immune system make additional defenses against infection called antibodies. As we age, the thymus production of adaptable T-cells is depleted as the thymus fills with fatty tissue. The result is an old immune system that is ill-equipped to fight off new viruses. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted a July 17 analysis of more than 50,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US, identifying that 80 percent were people age 65 or more.

An aging thymus also complicates the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. A vaccine’s design provides instructions to our immune system, which T-cells help to guide appropriately. However, the thymus has exhausted most of its reserve T-cells that adapt to recognize unknown pathogens by the age of 50; thus, the ability to “train” other immune cells to fight is lost. Many vaccines rely on the skill sets of fully functional T-cells.

A Shift from Traditional Methods of Developing Vaccines

Traditionally, the biopharmaceutical vaccine market has concentrated efforts on childhood vaccines. Martin Friede, a coordinator for vaccine and product and delivery research with the World Health Organization (WHO), states, “Up until very recently most of the focus of the vaccine community has been on saving lives of young children. The people who need the vaccine the most may actually be the people in whom the vaccine might not work.” Friede further comments that it isn’t solely about the thymus as individual vitality can translate into different vaccine responses. Some older people may be off to play a round of golf while others may be too frail to walk unaided.

Deputy director of clinical research for the Institute of Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Kawsar Talaat, echoes Friede’s sentiments, “We hadn’t been designing vaccines for the elderly for a long time.” Dr. Talaat is helping to facilitate coronavirus vaccine developers to test their shots in older adults. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also working with drug and biotech companies easing restrictions for experimental vaccines to be tested earlier during clinical trials on older adults.

Updates on Testing COVID-19 Vaccine Options

The New York biopharmaceutical giant Pfizer is currently conducting tests for potential COVID-19 vaccines in older people. The company is studying whether increasing the vaccine dosage could better protect the elderly as higher doses in existing flu vaccines make them more effective in older populations. At Moderna Therapeutics, results from a phase-one trial of its novel mRNA vaccine are in; however, a second phase two trial is being conducted specifically for adults age 55 and older. Many biotech and pharmaceutical companies are eager to be the first to introduce a successful FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine.

If the development of a COVID-19 vaccine specifically for the elderly remains elusive, scientists are hopeful that immunizing others around them can make a difference. Vaccinating children, health care workers, and potentially silent coronavirus carriers, could create enough herd immunity and would lower the risk of older people becoming infected. Sometimes it is possible to protect a vulnerable group by targeting other groups around them. Meanwhile, the work continues to find a workable COVID-19 vaccine for the most vulnerable Americans, the elderly.

We help seniors and their families deal with challenges around appropriate care and how to pay for it. If you would like to discuss your situation with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

If you’d like to discuss your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 with any questions.

Healthcare

Virtual Care: The Changing Face of Telemedicine

Telemedicine is the digital information distribution of healthcare-related services. Not long-ago telemedicine was an innovative practice, primarily a supplement to hospitals’ information strategy managing patient care and their data more efficiently. During the coronavirus pandemic and its associated urgent healthcare needs, hospitals and medical offices are making telehealth capabilities more available than ever before. Long-distance patient and clinician contact, advice, reminders, care, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions have become the norm.

Increasing Shift to Virtual Medical Care

The push for comprehensive virtual medical care quickly without a standardized platform has left many healthcare facilities struggling to meet demand with technological data integrity and consistent user interface. Just as individual’s panic led to purchasing toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other essential household items creating shortages, hospitals “pandemic-purchased” telehealth solutions to ride out the crisis led to a hodgepodge of tech solutions. This situation led to medical information security breaches, dropped call and video conferencing, poor audio and video quality, and distorted or incorrect information relayed to patients and health insurance companies alike.

Patients who were sheltering in place and rather fearful at the outset of the pandemic were initially forgiving of technological glitches. Today, however, patients have higher expectations of telemedicine and seek seamless experiences. Patients are also taking advantage of the ability to test-drive options from home, exploring physician expertise, availability, disposition, and price point before committing to a particular doctor, health care practitioner, or hospital facility. Additionally, patients are enjoying the experience and are now more likely to seek virtual care. It turns out that a patient using telehealth is more likely to adhere to prescription and wellness regimes, which is an advantage to public health overall. On average, telemedicine saves a patient more than 90 minutes otherwise wasted in commuting to an appointment and waiting to be seen by a doctor.

Telemedicine Being Embraced by Clinics and Hospitals

Clinics and hospitals are also embracing the benefits of telemedicine. Virtual medicine has played a vital role in quickly flattening the curve by getting to as many patients as possible without compromising social distancing and urgent care only protocols. Patients with chronic conditions and other non-urgent care, including routine follow-ups, can still engage with their physicians, allowing medical care, decreased patient anxiety, and maintaining facility reputation through patient retention. This continuity of care is essential, especially for urgent non-COVID-19 related health issues.

Health care facilities and medical professionals are now able to reach a new demographic of patients through telemedicine, particularly those in rural areas or those who list time, convenience, and proximity as barriers to making an initial consultation. Fully 76 percent of hospitals now employ telemedicine services, and two-thirds of patients report a willingness to use telehealth in the future, even after the pandemic ends.

Telemedicine Saves Time and Money

Telemedicine also yields significant savings of time and money for healthcare organizations and patients. An average in-office visit is 121 minutes, including 101 minutes of commute and waiting time. Therefore, a patient is only experiencing about 20 minutes of interaction with their doctor. A full one-third of patients have left a doctor’s office because the wait was too long. Telemedicine reduces wait times, no-shows, and cancellations saving time and money. There are also flexible insurance benefits to take advantage of when using telehealth.

What Telemedicine Platforms and Service are Right for You?

How can you best assess your hospital or doctor’s office telemedicine platform and service? Medicaleconomics.com cites four questions that you must ask to find the service best suited to your needs. Telemedicine can vary drastically among categories such as compliance, quality, convenience, and features, so keep the following in mind as you search for the right fit.

  1. Look for easy to use technology. As a patient, you should have no trouble downloading and accessing a telehealth app. It should be easy to use and intuitive and be available on multiple digital devices such as a tablet, phone, or laptop.
  2. Is the software provide HIPPA compliant and secure? Privacy issues are a major concern when using non-healthcare specific solutions like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and others. Ensure your telehealth provider keeps your sensitive information digitally safe.
  3. Make sure that the platform provides quality audio and video transmission. You will feel more comfortable, and your session will yield the best results knowing that communication is clear. Miscommunication can lead to misdiagnosis and have tragic health consequences.
  4. Shop around before committing. Read online reviews and speak to others about their telehealth experiences. Finding reputable healthcare facilities doesn’t stop with a board-certified physician. Facility reputation can be the difference between ease of interaction, diagnosis, and follow-up regarding insurance.

Embracing telemedicine can open your healthcare to expert physicians, save you time, and maintain the significant benefit of social distancing. Look for a healthcare organization with the right telemedicine framework for you. It will help you stay current with your routine medical care despite the coronavirus pandemic.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Healthcare

Understanding Gains in Alzheimer’s and ALS Research

Good news on the health front is so welcome these days. Now there is some, for the huge numbers of people suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia and ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Researchers have found links between those two dread illnesses, and the new understanding is showing promising results in the laboratory using drugs and genetic alteration.

New Insights on The Alzheimer’s Disease Research

The developments for both conditions center around relatively new insights into brain function. It seems that brain cells require a certain fluidity or agility to move between two rates of neuronal firing. Any further explanation plunges into the deep weeds of physics and neurology, but a recent interview on National Public Radio with researchers likened the healthy process as similar to the fluidity with which water changes from vapor to dewdrop to ice. In the case of the two illnesses, it seems that brain cells that should act with comparable fluency turn “sticky” instead. Dr. J. Paul Taylor, a neurogeneticist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, likened the disease process to what happens when honey is left in the refrigerator. Dr. Taylor won the 2020 Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer’s research.

Also quoted in the NPR interview was biophysical engineer Cliff Brangwynne, of Princeton and also with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He likened a healthy brain cell to acting like people coming and going at a party, chatting with each other, but the cells in ill brains have lost that ability to communicate fluidly.

Millions stand to benefit. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for such people. Between 2000 and 2018, deaths from heart disease have decreased 7.8% while deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 146%.

New Insights on ALS Research

As for ALS, Johns Hopkins estimates that the illness affects as many as 30,000 in the United States, with 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Estimates suggest that ALS is responsible for as many as five of every 100,000 deaths in people aged twenty or older, most commonly in people over age sixty. The disease process causes terrible suffering.

Pharmaceutical company Bayer and Dewpoint Therapeutics are partnering to produce treatments using this new technology for dementia, ALS, and other cancer conditions as well.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS can cause not only emotional stress for families, but financial stress as well. We help families deal with legal and financial issues related to caring for a loved one with a serious disease. If you’d like to discuss your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 with any questions.

Healthcare

Why You Should Have a Strategy for Your Aging Parents Before a Medical Crisis Hits

Many adult children in the US live far away from their parents. Managing aging parents or in-law medical events can be a serious challenge without proper preparation and understanding of what your parents’ strategy may or may not be, no matter where you live. Do you know what legal documentation your parents have in place regarding their medical care? Do they have advance directives that can help guide your medical decision-making process? Do you and your spouse openly discuss the situations of each other’s parents?

Medical advancements facilitate aging Americans’ longevity even with comorbidities such as high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, atrial fibrillation, and other health issues. Hospitals can typically fix non-life-threatening conditions easily enough, but what happens when a parent is released to return home? Are you prepared? Is there a plan? Many adult children tend to practice avoidance, denial, and wishful thinking when thinking about their aging parents’ behalf in a potential medical crisis. It is advisable to organize and prepare for the changes that inevitably come to your parents’ health.

More than ever, seniors are choosing to live independently and with autonomy about their life decisions. Even if your parents are in a well-run continuing care retirement community, there will come a day when their health will force a change in their lifestyle and living arrangements. Many parents will resist “help,” which they may consider more as interference. Whether they believe they are being a burden to you or decline a geriatric care manager’s services due to “cost” concerns, most older people do not want others interfering in their private affairs. 

The goal is to find a way to help while still affording your parents the dignity and respect they want and deserve. To achieve a comprehensive plan on your parents’ behalf, travel to them for an honest discussion. If this is not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, then virtual meetings are best, followed by phone calls as hearing loss typically makes communicating useful information difficult. Even on a screen, a face-to-face connection allows a parent to read lips, which is a typical strategy for older people experiencing hearing loss.

Review what legal paperwork your parents have and make sure it is in order. Many documents have a signature from many years ago, and things may have changed. If there is no designation of a medical power of attorney, be sure there is a document naming a “personal representative” to address restrictions outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This document allows the waiving of privacy concerns that permits access to a parent’s medical information while the parent is in the hospital.

Create an up-to-date list of all your parents’ doctors. The list should include medical contact information and all medicines (prescription or otherwise) that the parents take. If their general physician is not a geriatric specialist, it will help to find them one. Post-hospital fog and newly prescribed medications from an adverse health event can create confusion in an older parent. A geriatric doctor will know to look for and resolve these types of issues. Ask about the parameters for health care intervention, such as dialysis, post-hospital during the time of COVID-19?

Explain to your parents that being released from a hospital for a non-life-threatening, yet serious health episode is usually followed by the need for a care manager, at-home nursing care, or at least companion care. This additional care should not fall to a spouse if the parents live together. A spouse has their unique role to fill as well as personal health challenges with which to contend. Heaping an increased responsibility for spousal health care upon them may be damaging to their health.

Before an unforeseen medical crisis can occur, identify several qualified agencies in your parents’ hometown. Review each agency and candidate carefully. It is easier to integrate a suitable candidate at the outset than having the chaos of retaining and releasing multiple workers. Remember that a candidate who works for one parent may not be another parent’s preference in the future. Maintain a strong relationship with the agency provider. They are an essential resource, and you will probably need them in the future.

Take the time to learn the specifics of your parents’ healthcare and living arrangements. Coordinating your plan of response is contingent upon whether your parents live independently, in assisted living, or a retirement community. Wherever it is your parents live, their first desire will be to go home after an unexpected hospitalization. The desire to return home is a universal truth. Knowing the agencies that can quickly provide the type of care your parent needs in their home setting will go a long way to a successful transition. The road to recovery may require a few weeks of nurse visits, physical or occupational therapists, or simply companionship. The faster you can meet the need, the easier it will be on your parent.

If a full recovery is not possible, what will be your plan to address the new status of their normal? How much more medical oversight and assistance will they require? Know that in these instances, a parent can quickly spend through Medicare allotments afforded for temporary care. If they do not have long-term care, and many aging Americans do not, you will have to find ways to help them receive the care that they require.

If there are multiple adult children, is there an expectation that all siblings share information and work on the problems at hand, or is one in charge? Is this designation formally documented? Managing sibling relationships is key to avoiding family conflict. Also, understand your parents’ financial arrangements. Most parents will ask about the cost of any new healthcare service being arranged and decline using it. It is hard for a parent to spend down the money they worked their entire life to amass.

Knowing your parents’ aging strategies will not address every issue you might encounter because they may not have all the necessary decisions and documents in order. You can only work within the authority they choose to provide. As attorneys, we can help identify gaps in their planning and recommend ways to fill those gaps so everyone can have peace of mind.  If you’d like to discuss ways we can help, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 to learn more about your Medicaid planning needs.

Healthcare

Preserving Quality when Planning for End of Life

When our clients can no longer act for themselves, powers-of-attorney documents are prepared, the documents will convey on other trusted people the authority to act on our clients’ behalf.

But when it comes to actually using those documents at the time of a health-care crisis, clear and powerful documents are just the beginning. The decision-points can (and must) be put down on paper in advance, but when it comes to end-of-life situations, the clarity on which we lawyers thrive can be very hard to find.

Sitting in her lawyer’s office, the client may have been quite certain about health-care decisions. She does not want her life prolonged by a battery of aggressive treatments, where these would not preserve her quality of life. She does not want blood transfusions, dialysis, repeated courses of antibiotics and chemotherapy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or breathing and feeding tubes. She does not want to die inert in the ICU, surrounded by machines and strangers. She wants to die at home, surrounded by loved ones, at a time when she retains presence of mind to make her peace.

But that goal doesn’t just happen from wishing it and stating it. It happens with additional careful preparation for the realities. As the end of life approaches, the clarity we lawyers enjoy can be elusive. When a person gets a prognosis of two to five years (maybe), where, along that continuum, would be the time to start declining aggressive treatment? When there’s always one more intervention that may (or may not) produce a good result? When one decision could create an ever-widening array of complications? When, step by step, the patient becomes less and less able to exercise autonomy, and where treatment decisions by caregivers are not in line with the care the patient was clear about when she was sitting in the lawyer’s office?

No matter how clear the powers-of-attorney documents, with all these imponderables, the patient can end up in a situation many miles away from what she wanted. And there’s no possible do-over.

Powerful and clear power-of-attorney documents are an essential first step and we lawyers are glad to take care of that part. Beyond that, though, thorough preparation is essential.

Consider that the best result may be one that cares for comfort right now, in the moment. The question is not necessarily about how long life can be prolonged. The question may be, rather, how comfort can be maintained – in this moment, and then the next moment, and the next. The question is how life can be made better right now. Watch a video by palliative-care physician B.J. Miller, on why this is so important, here.

Make concrete plans. These include specifying what you want to happen if you’re no longer able to live independently; choosing wisely whom you want to act for you, to make sure your plans will be followed; being ready with your health-care documents before you find yourself deposited in the emergency room or ICU; and seeking the reassurance that your loved ones will be cared-for when you’re no longer there. Judy MacDonald Johnson has prepared simple, forthright worksheets to help with this process, here.  She speaks about these worksheets in this moving video.

There is no doubt that the process in safeguarding quality of life at the end of it is possibly the most challenging of all. But if that process can create as much pleasure as possible through an extremely difficult time of life, and if forthrightly engaging in that process would facilitate a passing more in line with what we would envision, the worth of the process will be felt. The transition will be smoother and more meaningful for the dying person, and a kinder legacy will be left behind for those who accompany us on this journey.

Learn more about your health care planning options and contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Elder Living, Estate Planning, Healthcare

Will the Cost of Long-Term Care lead to the Loss of My Home?

People work hard all their lives to own a home, and it is often their most valuable and significant possession. Homeownership is the American Dream. So, when health begins to fail and the need for long-term care arises, we often get this fear-filled question from our clients: will they take away my home?

The enormous and on-going costs of nursing-home care are astronomical, on average around $8,500.00 a month depending on location. The joint federal and state Medicaid program foots the bill for one in four of around 75 million recipients in this country. This is an enormous drain on government funds. To recoup some of those costs, then, the Medicaid rules permit states to take the value of a recipient’s home in some cases, to reimburse the program for funds it has expended.

Yet, because a home is such an essential family possession, the rules treat a primary residence as exempt – that is, its value is not counted as available to pay for nursing-home care from the home-owner’s pocket, before Medicaid kicks in. The home is protected, to a certain extent, for the benefit of Medicaid recipients and their close relatives.

That protection can be lost, however. The value of the house can be counted against a Medicaid applicant, and benefits denied or curtailed, when:

*     A home-owner has no living spouse or dependents, and

*     The owner moves into a facility permanently, with no intent to return home, or

*     The owner dies.

In other words, as long as the owner expresses the intent to return home, and the owner’s spouse or disabled or blind child live in the home, the home will not be counted against the owner for Medicaid-eligibility purposes.

Once the owner passes, however the state may place a lien on the home, to secure reimbursement of the value of the Medicaid services the owner received. This lien makes it impossible to sell the home or refinance a mortgage, without first paying the state what it may be owed.

As elder law attorneys we know a number of ways to protect homes from this kind of attachment. If you come to us at least five years before you anticipate needing nursing-home care, we can preserve your home or its value such that Medicaid will not count it, or lien against it, at all.

Or, if a child moves into the home and cares for an ailing parent for two years, permitting the parent to stay home and out of a nursing home, the house can then be given as a gift to that child without any Medicaid penalty or disqualification. Ordinarily, Medicaid heavily penalizes giving away property, but this is one exception.

There are other strategies available. The home can be given to a disabled child without penalty or disqualification. Or, you might keep the right to live in the house for your lifetime and deed the remainder interest to others, who will then own the house after you pass. However, each strategy comes with risks that must be fully explored before determining the correct one.

An overall plan that is tailored to suit each individual, and to meet as many contingencies as possible, requires juggling a number of puzzle-pieces. There is no one cookie-cutter solution. The key is to plan before you or your spouse may need nursing-home care.

As one piece in the overall picture of a balanced estate plan, we can help you save your home. We welcome the opportunity to work with you, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Healthcare

Coronavirus Pandemic Dilemma for the Senior Living Workforce

It’s a cautionary tale that provisions in a coronavirus-related relief action by the US government could have severely curtailed the workforce in senior assisted living, independent living, memory care, and continuing care retirement communities. The bill, HR 6201, is a multi-billion dollar aid package known as Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill has recently been signed into law by the US President. Influential leaders, CEOs, and corporate Presidents in the senior care and housing industry addressed facility workforce concerns directly to the House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) before the passing of H.R.6201.

Families First Coronavirus Response Law

The Families First Coronavirus Response Law expands unemployment and Medicaid benefits, provides for free coronavirus testing, and mandates paid sick leave and childcare. Now that schools have closed throughout the country for an indefinite time, the fear is that many senior care workers will, unsurprisingly, put their family before their healthcare worker employment. A reprieve of sorts was added before the law being enacted, which states that only certain employees can qualify for paid sick leave.  Because of these loopholes, healthcare workers like first responders, and hospital and nursing home staff are ineligible for paid sick leave per the Families First Coronavirus Response Law (FFCRL) amid fears of staffing shortages among medical providers.

Healthcare worker exemption from some FFCRL benefits is a relief to the senior housing industry but by no means mitigates other workforce challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. The pervasiveness of this contagion means that healthcare workers will be exposed to, and some will fall ill with full-blown coronavirus symptoms and illness. Obviously, in these cases, the healthcare worker will be removed from the senior living facility for quarantine and recovery and to protect the facility’s residents and staff. One coronavirus confirmed healthcare worker begins a domino effect within a facility. Regular operations become short-staffed, and operators face the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols that co-workers must also face quarantine.

How Healthcare Workers are Responding to COVID-19 Pandemic

Beyond coronavirus exposure, symptoms, and the diagnosed virus itself, there is the problem of how healthcare workers respond in a pandemic. The non-stop news and social media coverage of the coronavirus has put many Americans on edge, including health care workers. In a crisis, some people respond logically and calmly, while others may become fearful of their own circumstances and respond emotionally. Most healthcare workers would put their own family’s health needs and care before any employment, and in a free society, there is nothing to compel them to stay in a job if they choose to tend first to their own family.

If your loved one is in a senior living facility, what can you do to mitigate the negative consequences of workforce disruption due to the coronavirus? In the short term, if you are able and your senior is well enough, you can put them under your care. Beyond family care, unless you have the resources for private pay at any cost, you, like the rest of us, are in the system and have to wait out the virus and its effects. There is no guarantee moving forward how the coronavirus will play out in senior living communities, America, and around the world.

One of the few things you do have control over is to assure your loved one has proper legal documents for end of life decisions. Take the time to review them to ensure they are in order. A do not resuscitate order (DNR), durable medical power of attorney, and end of life wishes should be on file with your loved ones living facility and the local hospital. Additional legal copies of these documents should remain in your car or on your person in the event a facility is unable to locate the paperwork. Preparing for the worst-case scenario is a harsh reality; however, it could make the difference between chaotic suffering and a peaceful passing.

We can help draft appropriate documents for you and your loved ones. Learn more about your options and contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Healthcare

Understanding HealthCare Power of Attorney: Specific VS. General

You have the right to decide what kind of medical treatment you want to receive from doctors and health-care providers. If you can speak up at the time, you can express your wishes yourself. But if you become incapable because you’re ill or injured, you need to plan in advance. Designate a person whom you trust to speak for you. You do this by creating what’s known as an “advance directive” or health care power of attorney.

You also have a choice about the kind of document you prefer. You can ask for a short document that simply conveys general authority on your agent to make health-care decisions for you – or you can opt for a longer document that details the specific powers you give to your agent.

For both versions, we offer a checklist to assist you in discussing your wishes with your agent beforehand.

The General Version

This version is short, clear, and easy to understand. It states, generally, that you have given your agent the authority to speak for you. Your agent knows your wishes, because you have discussed those wishes with him or her beforehand.

The Specific Version

This version goes into detail about what you would like your agent to do for you. For example, it includes the request that providers and your agent consult with you if possible. If not possible, it includes a list of procedures that you authorize your agent to decide on your behalf. Included are decisions about what kind of residential facility you want to be placed in, that an agent can visit you and bar others from visiting if appropriate, can advocate for pain relief, can consent to psychiatric treatment, can decide about anatomical gifts and organ donation, and the document provides procedural details about enforcement.

You will be covered with either version. The choice is yours.

Living Will

You may also want a separate Living Will for end-of-life decisions. This document becomes effective when you can no longer care for yourself, walk, talk, recognize loved ones, or are in the final stage of an incurable illness. At that point, you can decline expensive, high-intensity care that likely would not improve quality of life.

Choosing Your Agent

The person you choose to be your health-care agent must be someone you can depend on to have good communication skills, remain calm in difficult situations, and deal flexibly with complexity that might arise in reconciling your wishes with available medical options. Choose that person carefully.

Health Care Preferences Checklist

We can offer you a checklist, to help you discuss your wishes with your agent. This is not an easy conversation. It’s hard to contemplate a time when our health has declined or we suffer injury or accident. It is also challenging to try to imagine various scenarios involving situations that can be complicated by numerous medical contingencies.

Still, your agent needs to know what you would want in a variety of situations. These include whether to decline or accept life support and mechanical interventions, when you would opt for or decline surgery, and your preferences about blood transfusions, medication, and religious observance.

For certain states, the checklist also contains a signature line that proves you have discussed your wishes as to feeding and hydration tubes. Otherwise, if your agent doesn’t know what you would decide, the law in some states would take away from your agent the right to decide about those kinds of measures.

Don’t hide your documents!

When it comes time to use your documents but they can’t be found, or if your agent or family don’t understand them or ignore them, you will have spent your time, effort, and money in vain. Make sure your documents are readily available. Give a copy of them to your agent and ask your doctors to include them in your medical records.

You will have done your best to see that your values and health-care choices will be honored. We are here to help, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Healthcare

How Veterans Can Qualify for a VA Pension Without Being Disabled

Many veterans may miss out on US Military benefits as they are always changing; it is important to understand how to navigate this life-changing aid option. Many wartime veterans receive a disability pension due to injury. But did you know that wartime veterans age 65 or more may qualify for a VA Pension without being disabled? The Veteran’s Administration qualifications for this type of VA Pension include:

  • Your military service discharge is deemed anything other than dishonorable conditions,
  • Your service was 90 or more active duty days with at minimum one day of service during a period of wartime.
  • You are age 65 years or older,
  • Your countable family income is below a threshold set every year by law.

2020 Family Income Limits (Effective December 1, 2019)

If you are a…Your yearly income must be less than…*
Veteran with no dependents$13,752*
Veteran with a spouse or a child$18,008**
Housebound veteran with no dependents$16,805
Housebound veteran with one dependent$21,063
Veteran who needs aid and attendance and has no dependents$22,939
Veteran who needs aid and attendance (A/A) and has one dependent$27,195
Two veterans married to each other$18,008
Add for each additional child to any category above$2,351
*Some income is not counted toward the yearly limit (for example, welfare benefits, some wages earned by dependent children, and Supplemental Security Income. It is also important to note that your medical-related expenses are considered when determining your yearly family income. *To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed $687 ** To be deducted, medical expenses must exceed $900

The financial information chart above, published by military.com, is commensurate with the numbers posted on the Veteran’s Administration website.  Be aware; there is a look-back period that will determine if you have transferred assets in the three years previous to filing your claim. There would be a penalty period rate of $2,266 if you did move assets for less than fair market value during this period.

The VA will pay a qualified veteran the difference between personal countable family income and the yearly income limit category into which they fall. Payments are made in 12 equal installments per month and rounded down to the nearest dollar. As an example, a single veteran with a $5,000 annual income qualifies for an annual limit of $13,752. Subtracting that veteran’s income from the income limit yields an annual pension rate of $8,752, which translates into a VA monthly pension check of $729.33 or $729.00 rounded down to the nearest dollar value.

The VA website recognizes the following wartime periods that determine if your service was during an eligible wartime period:

  • World War II (December 7, 1941, to December 31, 1946)
  • Korean conflict (June 27, 1950, to January 31, 1955)
  • Vietnam War era (February 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period. August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam.)
  • Gulf War (August 2, 1990, through a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation)

In addition to VA pension, wartime Veterans may also qualify for an additional allowance called Aid and Attendance. To qualify medically for VA Aid and Attendance, one of the following must be true:

  • Another person is required for you to perform daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and feeding, or
  • You spend a large portion, or all of your day in bed due to illness, or
  • Due to a loss of mental or physical abilities related to a disability you are a patient in a nursing home, or
  • Your eyesight is severely limited (wearing glasses or contacts your eyesight is 5/200 or less in both eyes or your concentric contraction visual field is 5 degrees or less)

There are similar benefits available to surviving spouses of wartime Veterans. If you are a wartime veteran or the surviving spouse of a wartime Veteran, we can help you determine whether you could qualify for pension benefits.

While eligible veterans or surviving spouses can apply for benefits on their own through the www.va.gov  website, it is advisable to seek the advice of counsel before applying. There may be planning options available to avoid a penalty period and speed up the qualification process. If you would like to explore whether you might qualify for VA pension benefits, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Healthcare

How Telehealth Services are Growing Coverage on Medicare

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, an increase of access to Medicare telehealth services. This means that Medicare beneficiaries can receive more benefits from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility.

The terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” refer to the ability to exchange medical information from one site to another through electronic communication to improve a patient’s health.  With the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases, there is the urgency to expand the use of technology to help people who need routine care. Telehealth will keep vulnerable beneficiaries and those with mild symptoms in their home, but with access to the care they need by phone and video rather than requiring an office visit.

Prior to this change, Medicare would only pay for telehealth on a limited basis, and only for persons in a designated rural area. Now Medicare beneficiaries will be able to receive the following services through telehealth: common office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive health screenings. This will help keep more of the at-risk population (Medicare beneficiaries) able to visit with a doctor from home, rather than traveling to a doctor’s office or hospital which puts the beneficiary and others at risk. Telehealth visits will be treated the same as regular, in-person visits and will be paid by Medicare at the same rates.

These changes go into effect for services starting March 6, 2020, and will continue for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. For more information, view the fact sheet prepared by CMS.

Better access to telehealth is a big step in getting Medicare beneficiaries appropriate care in the least restrictive way If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.