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Challenges Faced By Seniors on Medicare

This weekend our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers read with interest a New York Times article that provides a unique perspective on elder care in America. It explains how the 1965 Medicare law is not at all well tailored to provide the services that most seniors want or need. It is a stark reminder that the quality of life and day-to-day welfare of our elderly loved ones is what matters most. That need is often at odds with the cookie-cutter list of medical actions taken by many care providers.

It was explained how the major advances in medicine over the past years were never predicted by those who crafted the landmark healthcare law four and a half decades ago. Little has changed with the overall mission of the law, and so much care received has become not only pointless and expensive, but often downright dangerous. The author explains that in many cases the care for seniors on Medicare is not driven by the wishes of the senior. Instead, doctors and pharmaceutical companies who have money to gain on the system and adult children driven by emotion are the ones who make these medical decisions.

Medicare pays for things like forced feeding tubes, optional surgeries that cause more complications than improvement, and other actions which frequently cause more trouble than they are worth or that seniors want. However, Medicare rarely pays for things which seniors often desperately need, like long-term care in quality facilities, assistance with transportation, or help at home with basic tasks. Seniors nursing home residents are forced to cover the often exorbitant costs on their own-anywhere from $150,000 to $35,000 a year. It is only when they can no longer afford those costs after blowing through their life savings that they can qualify for Medicaid support. Even then, it is not guaranteed what quality of facility the senior may be placed. Much nursing home abuse and neglect has resulted from innocent victims who have no other choice but to resident in some of the worst homes in their area.

Frequently what a senior needs are basic tools to make their lives easier: an electric wheelchair to get around, a talking board to talk to others, home health aides to provide basic assistance, and similar tasks. However, Medicare covers none of that. Yet, it does cover a wide range of things which do little to improve or even prolong a senior’s life: expensive, risky surgeries, diagnostic tests, expensive medications. The story’s author explains how her mother spent $500,000 out of her own pocket on end of life costs (not counting the money her adult children spent as well) only to end up on Medicaid anyway. It is perhaps even more shocking that 70% of elderly residents will need some sort of extended care at some point in their lives. Few have half a million dollars in extra money available to provide for those costs.

Our Chicago nursing home lawyers know that it is vital we discuss these issues, because the problem is only growing. The elderly are the fastest growing part of the population, and more and more seniors will begin needing this care as baby boomers begin to retire in the coming years. Right now more than one-fifth of the nation’s overall healthcare costs are on senior care from Medicare. In a few decades the total number of seniors on Medicare will double. That is why now is as good a time as ever to have honest discussions about the real needs of seniors and the ways to better provide proper care that will make a difference in actual lives.

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