Medicare open enrollment is coming: What beneficiaries should know

Bob Rosenblatt

About Bob Rosenblatt

Bob Rosenblatt has been a journalist in Washington, D.C., for more than 30 years, with much of his career focused on aging. At the Los Angeles Times, he started the paper’s first beat on aging and launched a popular advice column on Medicare and health insurance.

Photo 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Photo 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Medicare season is here, and consumers – your readers, viewers and listeners – need lots of help in making their choices.

Open enrollment begins Oct. 15 for the 49 million Americans on Medicare, and ends Dec. 7. This is the time when they can change the way they receive their health benefits, for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2015.

The choices are:

  1. Traditional Medicare, in which patients can get care from any doctor or hospital participating in the Medicare program. Beneficiaries pay for Part B, which covers doctors’ care, and Part D, which covers prescription drugs. Most people with this coverage also choose Medi-gap, a supplemental coverage which fills in some of the extra costs you may have. HHS just announced the Part B premiums for 2015.
  2. Medicare Advantage Plan, also known as a Part C plan. This is one-stop shopping, in which consumers pay a fee and get care, staying within a network of doctors and hospitals operated by the plan. In return for using the network, they may get some extra benefits, such as drugs, eyeglasses, and perhaps even a gym membership.

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Welcome AHCJ’s newest members

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Please welcome these new professional and student members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Jacqui Banaszynski, Knight Chair in Editing, University of Missouri School of Journalism, Columbia, Mo. (@JacquiB)
  • Carey Head, lifestyles editor, Ponca City News, Ponca City, Okla.
  • KW Hillis, staff/health writer, The Lawton Constitution, Lawton, Okla.
  • Mador Jessica, reporter/producer, BringMeTheNews, Minneapolis (@jessicamador)
  • Amanda Keener, independent journalist, Greensboro, N.C. (@immYOUnology)
  • Soo Rin Kim, student, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
  • Nell Lake, independent journalist, Northampton, Mass. (@Nell_Lake)
  • Shirie Leng, independent journalist, Newton, Mass.
  • Adam Rubenfire, reporter, Modern Healthcare, Chicago (@arubenfire)
  • Paula Santonocito, editor, Medical Office Manager, Rutland, Vt. (@MedOfficeMgr)
  • Kit Stolz, independent journalist, Santa Paula, Calif.
  • Ellen Wichman, health care reporter, Chicago Tribune, Chicago (@ellenjeanhirst)

If you haven’t joined yet, see what member benefits you’re missing out on: Access to more than 50 journals and databases, tip sheets and articles from your colleagues on how they’ve reported stories, conferences, workshops, online training, reporting guides and more. Join AHCJ today to get a wealth of support

Dallas Ebola case raises questions about care for the uninsured

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

"Ebola virions" by See Source - Charting the Path of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Central Africa. PLoS Biol 3/11/2005: e403 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ebola virions” from “Charting the Path of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Central Africa.” PLoS Biol 3/11/2005: e403 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

When Thomas Eric Duncan died Wednesday of Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, one of many questions that remained unanswered was why the hospital didn’t do more to diagnose and treat Duncan initially. On Sept. 25, Duncan walked into the hospital’s emergency room, was given antibiotics and sent home, according to coverage in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere.

The question about what happened on Sept. 25 is important because Duncan could have infected many other individuals between when he was sent home on Sept. 25 and when he returned on Sept. 28 and was put into isolation. Writing in The New York Times, Manny Fernandez and Dave Philipps suggest that Duncan might still be alive if he had been admitted on Sept. 25.

After his death, Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, and other African-Americans, questioned whether Duncan had received substandard care. Continue reading

Americans living longer; some pay more for outpatient services

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

life-expectancyTwo new reports again underscore the need for a comprehensive national long-term services and support initiative.

First, the good news: A new National Center for Health Statistics data brief shows that Americans are living longer. Overall life expectancy rose by 0.1 percent from 2011 to 2012, to 78.8 years, and was highest for non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks. Women can expect to live an average of 81.2 years, and men an average of 76.4 years, based on the new analysis.

The report also shows significant decreases in age-adjusted death rates for eight of the 10 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, diabetes, stroke, influenza, pneumonia and kidney disease.

Now the bad news – a new report released by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services found increased costs associated with critical access hospitals. Medicare beneficiaries paid nearly half of the costs for outpatient services at critical access hospitals – a higher percentage of the costs of coinsurance for services received at these facilities than they would have paid at hospitals using Outpatient Prospective Payment System rates. Continue reading

Defusing panic over Ebola by understanding R-nought

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Earlier today it was announced that Thomas Eric Duncan died in Dallas. Duncan, a Liberian national who contracted Ebola in Liberia, did not show symptoms on his journey to Dallas or immediately after his arrival. Various news outlets are reporting that travelers arriving in the United States from West Africa would have their temperatures taken and be asked to answer questionnaires ascertaining any possible exposure.

Given today’s events, it’s understandable that Internet speculation and media coverage have fanned the flames of public panic regarding Ebola. But reporters should be asking state and local epidemiologists if that panic is really justified.

Math can answer that question.

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Reporting on end-of-life care? Start here.

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

An op-ed in the October 4 issue of the New York Times reinforces the need for compassionate and comprehensive support for end-of-life care that spares dying patients and their families from pointless and confusing bureaucracy and needless expenses.

Image by Steve Harwood via flickr.

Image by Steve Harwood via flickr.

The editors point to Nina Bernstein’s recent article about a daughter that just wanted to honor her dying father’s wishes and bring him home. It’s the kind of reporting that strikes a personal and emotional chord with many readers. The editors also highlight new efforts in New York State designed to alleviate some of these challenges.

Sally Quinn’s discussion about Ben Bradlee’s battle with dementia and his admission to hospice care in a recent Politico story also resonates through use of powerful narrative and quotes.

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Dental care for people with developmental disabilities

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Blog photo credit: Image by Anderson Mancini via flickr.

Image by Anderson Mancini via flickr.

Writing about the lives of developmentally disabled people and their caregivers? Don’t overlook the topic of dental care. Research indicates that disabled people, including those with developmental disabilities, experience more disease and are less likely to have access to professional dental services than people without disabilities.

The challenges that the 4.9 million Americans living with developmental disabilities may face in maintaining home dental hygiene routines have received little attention. In many cases, people living with conditions such as attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities need help with tasks such as tooth brushing and flossing. The majority of these people live at home and providing this assistance can be challenging for caregivers, particularly family members, according to a unique large-scale study featured on the cover of the October issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. Janice Neumann picked up on the study in a piece for Reuters Health  that ran Oct 2 in the Orlando Sentinel under the headline “Caregiver Training May Help Mentally Disabled Adults with Dental Care.”

“Helping adults with developmental disabilities brush and floss their teeth is often hard for paid and unpaid caregivers, but family members could be in extra need of training,” Neumann wrote. “Researchers found poor brushing and flossing habits and high rates of dental disease in a survey of disabled adults, and many caretakers lacked confidence in their ability to help their charges with daily dental care.”

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Legal feud over dental service shows no sign of lightening up

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Mark Blevis via Flickr

Mark Blevis via Flickr

A long feud between North Carolina’s state dental board and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services may have wider implications for the dental and medical boards that regulate the health professions nationwide.

The case of North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, with oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 14. At issue is whether non-dentists should be allowed to bleach teeth.

Dental whitening has grown into a multibillion dollar business and many dentists offer the service, which involves applying peroxide-containing preparations to the teeth.

Do-it-yourself whitening kits are available in pharmacies. In some states, retail salons and mall kiosks offer teeth-whitening services.

In at least 25 states, dental boards have taken steps to shut down these establishments, according to a report by the Institute for Justice (IJ) a non-profit libertarian law firm. Since 2005, at least 14 states have changed their laws and regulations and now ban all but licensed dentists, hygienists and assistants from performing tooth-whitening procedures, according to the IJ.

Dental organizations back such restrictions, arguing that the retailers are practicing dentistry without a license and contending they could be putting customers at risk.

The details of the cases vary from state to state. But the Supreme Court’s decision in the North Carolina case could have wider implications for tooth-whitening shops – and for the dental and medical boards that regulate the health professions nationwide.

See this new tip sheet on the legal battles over teeth whitening, including details of the situation in a number of states, relevant court cases, statements and other useful coverage.

And be sure to watch Covering Health for coverage of the Oct. 14 Supreme Court arguments.

A dozen healthy aging ideas to consider covering

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Image by torbakhopper via flickr.

Image by torbakhopper via flickr.

How can we improve the health of the nation’s fastest growing group? The Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) gathered the best ideas from dozens of experts on innovative behavioral and psycho-social approaches to address the unique health needs of older adults.

“Fostering Engagement and Independence: Opportunities and Challenges for an Aging Society” was just released as a special supplement to the SOPHE journal Health Education & Behavior. The hope is to encourage readers to look at innovative ways to influence health, functioning and well being of the growing senior population, according to guest editor Lynda Anderson, Ph.D., Healthy Aging Program Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Continue reading

Tips on covering hospital mergers and acquisitions

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Photo" PINKÉ via Flickr

Photo: PINKÉ via Flickr

Hospitals across the country are merging – both with other hospitals and with other health care entities such as clinics and rehab facilities. (Those are sometimes called, respectively, horizontal and vertical integration.)

The question is whether the consolidation is creating more efficiency in the health care system, as hospitals generally argue, or whether it’s creating big monopolistic health care entities that will have more clout in negotiating with insurers and thus will lead to higher, not lower, prices.

Antitrust/ mergers and acquisitions is a topic health reporters often shy away from. But it’s important and we need to pay more attention. To help you, we just posted a tip sheet, “Getting the facts on hospital mergers and acquisitions,” based on an email-interview with Barak Richman of Duke Law School, one of the foremost experts on health care antitrust law. In addition, here are a few additional resources on the topic and some recent coverage about the issue nationally and locally.

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