Category Archives: Aging

Report: Home care workers deserve more pay, benefits

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Two SEIU home care workers at a rally with Labor Secretary Marty
Walsh (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) paints a stark picture of the financial plight of home care workers. Most of these workers — who care for sick, frail, vulnerable older adults and those with serious disabilities, are significantly undervalued and underpaid and deserve a higher wage.

The Biden Build Back Better Act, which recently passed the House and awaits passage by the Senate, would make an unprecedented investment of $150 billion in home and community-based services over 10 years. It will also increase the demand for qualified home care workers. However, finding people willing to do these jobs will likely get more challenging.

Many employers already can’t find qualified workers at current rates. If workers quit due to job dissatisfaction or burnout or because they can make more money at a big box store, what happens to those who need their help? Journalists can use the data in this report to delve into pay rates, workforce composition and investigate potential worker shortages and solutions in their communities. 

EPI report key findings 

The EPI report revealed that home care workers earn a mean of $13.81/hour, about half of what the average U.S. worker is paid ($27.31). Home care workers are primarily women (88.6%) and disproportionately Black (23.9%) and Hispanic (21.8%). Roughly three in 10 home care workers were born outside the U.S., according to the report.

The authors call for boosting the hourly wage at minimum, to between $21.11 and $25.95, depending on the benchmark applied, to help recruit and retain high-quality, skilled home care workers. Contrary to what some may believe, traditional Medicare typically does not pay for home care unless skilled nursing is also needed. Some Medicare Advantage (MA) plans now cover some in-home help annually, but it’s often far less than what’s needed to help an older person remain independent at home.

Medicaid, on the other hand, does pay for needed home care for people who qualify, but states must apply for waivers to implement home and community-based programs. Currently, there are over 800,000 people across the U.S. who are on waiting lists for home care programs like PACE, a Medicaid-funded state-run initiative that provides comprehensive medical care and assistance with activities like bathing, eating and dressing. (What is the waiting list like in your state for these highly in-demand home and community-based programs?)

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New research highlights vaccine effectiveness vs. natural immunity in older adults

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo by National Guard via Flickr.

New research published in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) revealed how much more effective COVID-19 vaccines are compared with natural immunity at preventing hospitalizations in people over 65. Data analysis from nine states show that the odds of COVID infection in hospitalized people were nearly 20 times greater among unvaccinated seniors than  fully vaccinated recipients with no previous documented infection. Additionally, the study found hospitalized people under 65 who were unvaccinated were at 5 times greater risk of COVID infection compared with those who received both doses of an mRNA shot.

The study further confirms that vaccine-induced immunity was more protective than infection-induced immunity against laboratory-confirmed COVID-19. Study researchers issued several strong calls for everyone eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible, even if they have previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2.  It’s especially important for the older population who are not yet fully vaccinated to do so, said the experts. Although those 65 and older make up about 16% of the total U.S. population, they account for some 75% of COVID deaths.

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How I did it: Reporting on COVID deaths in state veterans homes

About Joanne Kenen

Contributing editor to Politico Magazine and former health care editor-at-large, Politico, Commonwealth Fund journalist in residence and assistant lecturer at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Photo by Tim Evanson via flickr

Countless media reports have looked at the devastating effects of COVID-19 in private and public nursing homes since the start of the pandemic. However, it can be more challenging to find out how our nation’s veterans have fared: some VA nursing homes are overseen by the federal government, others are run by individual states. As Politico’s executive health care editor, Joanne Kenen writes in this “How we did it,” as more horror stories bubbled up to the surface, it was time to take a closer look. She pulled a team together for a deeper dive into how these veterans’ homes had failed those who had risked it all for our country.

In all my years covering health care, with a significant amount focused on aging — I had never heard of a state veterans homes (SVHs) — basically, nursing homes for veterans.

During the pandemic, I began seeing tweets about high death tolls in these homes (and some good local journalism on them). I got curious and reached out to three Politico colleagues, Allan Vestal, a data reporter with experience investigating nursing homes, Darius Tahir, who covers aspects of the veteran affairs (VA) and our enterprise editor Peter Canellos.

Six months later we produced a 6000-word-plus report documenting how these homes had failed aging veterans who had put their lives on the line for our country. As we wrote, “Soldiers who’d survived battles couldn’t survive the pandemic, as viruses spread through many VA homes that lacked proper controls.”

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New website helps states share home and community-based services, plus how to report on this topic

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo by Myfuture.com via Flickr.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has launched a new “one-stop-shop” for state Medicaid agencies and stakeholders to improve transparency and encourage innovation for home and community-based services (HCBS).

HCBS allow people enrolled in Medicaid to receive services and support in a preferred setting outside of an institution, such as in their home. While Medicaid law requires states to cover nursing facilities and other institutional care, it does not require them to cover the full range of HCBS. States must apply for HCBS waivers to provide these services in the home environment.

This new webpage grants state Medicaid agencies and stakeholders access to other states’ plans or proposals to enhance, expand, and strengthen these services across the country using new Medicaid funding under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP). (The landing page is very text-heavy; you can find individual state plans by scrolling down towards the bottom of that page).

Journalists can tap into this resource to hold states and agencies accountable
for delivering promised services.

Some key information available on this website includes: 

  • Each state’s initial spending plan and narrative; CMS approval status and response.
  • A Home and Community Based Settings Toolkit to assist states develop Home and Community-Based 1915(c) waivers or renewal application(s).
  • Detailed guidelines from on how American Rescue Plans funds can be used.
  • Information about aging and aging services in rural America.

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Tips for reporting on what experts say could be a tough flu season for the elderly

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

As cases of the Delta variant start to wane, infectious disease specialists have a new concern this fall — flu and pneumonia, especially in vulnerable populations like older adults.

Experts from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and the CDC expressed concern about a potentially serious flu season at a video press briefing on October 7.  Flu cases during 2020-21 were extremely low— just 2,124 confirmed cases between Sept. 27, 2020, and May 15, 2021— thanks in large part to people working from home, wearing masks, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene.

But as more communities ease restrictions, the flu could surge this year, impacting many more people. For seniors, whose immune systems are weaker than younger adults, that could mean an increase in hospitalizations, cases of pneumonia, or even deaths.

“The medical and public health community are preparing for a potentially vigorous respiratory virus session in the United States,” said William Schaffner, M.D., NFID medical director, who moderated the briefing. “The best way to prepare is to get your flu vaccine.”

Vaccination is especially important among at-risk populations, including adults 65 and older, and those with certain chronic conditions according to Schaffner.

Currently, the U.S. is on track for similar flu vaccination rates as 2020, about 52% overall, according to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., who participated in the briefing.  That rate may not be good enough this year to keep case rates low.

A recent NFID survey revealed that even among those who are at high risk for complications, nearly 1 in 4 (23%) were not planning to get vaccinated this season. While most people over age 65 (71%) said they will get a flu shot, 30% of seniors would remain unprotected, leading to potentially serious consequences.

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