Aging in the new year: A treasure trove of stories for health reporters

2014 promises to be a big year in health and aging – with plenty of stories on the horizon for health journalists:

Medicare payments, Alzheimer’s breakthroughs, long-term care financing, caregiving issues, the science of longevity, senior-friendly neighborhoods and technology are just some of the issues journalists will likely report on on during this coming year.

Medicare will see several important changes – the 2014 handbook is a handy reference to have nearby. The standard premium of $104.90 and $147 deductible for  Part B–provider coverage, remains the same for most people; however, some higher-earning seniors may see their Medicare or Medicare Advantage premiums rise slightly or be affected by some taxes like the capital gains tax.

In a column in The (McAllen, Texas) Monitor, Bob Moos, a public affairs officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, writes that the doughnut hole for prescription drugs continues to shrink – consumers will pay less for generics and about the same for brand name drugs as in 2013. Another plus, as Judith Graham reported, is that as of Jan. 1, Medicare covers 80 percent of seniors’ mental health costs – allowing more older adults to seek treatment for depression and other psychological illnesses.

CMS continues initiatives that reward providers for quality, outcomes, fewer hospital readmissions, and reducing adverse drug reactions. Conversely, hospitals and nursing facilities face stiff penalties for 30-day or sooner readmissions.  You can crunch the hospital readmissions data to see how local facilities are doing. ACOs and bundled payments, along with effective patient-centered medical homes will continue to receive attention. Medicare certified practitioners escaped a 24 percent payment cut set to begin on Jan. 1, when the president signed the The Pathway for SGR Reform Act of 2013 last week. CMS added 57 new individual measures and two measure groups under the Physician Quality Reporting System. It may also finally be the year that a permanent solution to the annual “doc fix” is achieved.

Penalties, outcomes-driven reimbursement and cost control issues will likely result in more patients shifted into home and community-based care settings, creating  an even greater need for family caregiver support, home health care workers, and community based social services.

As The Atlantic documents, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been successfully providing home-based primary care services for years. Psychosocial and financial support for family caregivers will likely gain more attention as the numbers of these caregivers continues to grow. Last year’s report from the Federal Commission on Long Term Care, hearings by the U.S. Special Committee on Aging, along with numerous research studies and reports, stressed the need for these vital services. Mid-term elections could make this a hot-button issue among boomers.

2013 saw significant progress, along with a few stumbles, in Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment – Sean Williams looks at some promising developments in the pipeline. This Forbes piece by Lisa Wirthman focuses on pre-Alzheimers signs and at-risk populations. British researchers also are optimistic about finding treatment breakthroughs within the next few years.

Laurie Orlov notes in her year-end piece that programs to help seniors master the iPad should continue to thrive this year; but not without more accessible, affordable broadband. An,d of course, there’s Calico – Google’s ambitious effort to tackle aging. This, along with other efforts into longevity research – barely scratch the surface of the opportunities ahead in health and aging, 2014 edition.

1 thought on “Aging in the new year: A treasure trove of stories for health reporters

  1. Jim Blair

    The proposed rules from CMS addressing the need to promote a safe and secure locus of care for all stakeholders in the hospital to hospice continuum comes at a time when extreme weather threatens the most vulnerable among us. The recognition that access, quality and cost of elder care is meaningless if patients are not protected from known hazards. You can’t provide patient-centered care if you fail to protect the care environment. The proposed rules are a decade late and if the current trend to care for an aging populations in non-clustered locations it is time to face this issue is now.

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