Some Medicare beneficiaries receive significantly more hospital-based services during the last two years of life than do other beneficiaries. The number of physician visits for Medicare beneficiaries can also vary greatly. What accounts for this variation? Do patients receiving more services tend to get better care, or not? Should policymakers take steps to more closely examine the relationship between spending and the volume of services provided at different facilities?
The costs of caring for the elderly have been growing steadily higher. Spending on Medicare benefits accounted for 17 percent of the nation’s total health care spending in 2004. With baby boomers retiring, and Medicare benefits changing, this percentage is expected to grow in the future. Americans spend approximately $140 billion on long-term care in the U.S., most of it on the elderly, and Medicaid picks up almost half of the cost. Even among large private firms, health care costs for older people have taken their toll with only one-third offering health benefits to their retirees today, compared with two-thirds in 1988.
“Cash and Counseling” is a way of allowing individuals receiving personal assistance services through Medicaid to have more control over the services they get and who provides them. The program provides an individualized allowance that beneficiaries can use to hire a personal care assistant of their choice – often a family caregiver – or purchase items that help them live independently, such as chair lifts.
In addition to providing health insurance coverage for 35 million seniors, Medicare covers about 6 million disabled beneficiaries under age 65 who are entitled to cash benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. SSDI is designed to assist adults who are unable to work due to severe, long-lasting disabilities. However, disabled people who wish to receive coverage under Medicare must first qualify for SSDI cash benefits and wait five months before receiving the benefit. These individuals must then wait an additional two years before becoming eligible for Medicare.
In November 2002, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a nationwide initiative to improve nursing home quality by making information about the quality of care in individual nursing homes much more widely available. This was a welcome step toward giving consumers more information about the quality of nursing home care. Since a study by the Institute of Medicine more than 15 years ago found serious and widespread deficiencies in nursing home care, several major studies have confirmed continuing difficulties.