Memorial Day thoughts — Do you know who your veterans service agent is?

It’s Memorial Day weekend — a time to remember the needs of our vets and their families.

Unfortunately, our state and local governments do a pretty mediocre job of letting veterans and their families know about a service funded by the Commonwealth — the veteran’s agent. Every city and town in the state has an agent assigned to it. The agent’s job is to assist veterans and their families (including surviving spouses and disabled children) identify appropriate Veterans Administration benefits and state services for veterans and apply for them. This service is free.

To find out more, click here or call your city or town hall and ask for the veterans agent.

Time for the Second Annual Get-Your-Graduate-to-Sign-A-Power-of-Attorney Lecture

Those of you who were reading my blog a year ago…. go have a cup of tea.

The rest of you…. pay attention.

There’s a good chance you know a kid who just turned or is about to turn 18. You may be attending her high school graduation in a few weeks. Guess what… that kid is or is about to become a legal adult. That means Mom and Dad have NO legal right to access her financial information, school records, or talk to her doctor.

So? You may shrug.

Well, what if there’s an emergency? What if Suzy is involved in a car crash and gets seriously injured? Who will have the right to deal with the auto insurer? Medical insurance? Sue the other driver? Tell the college that she’ll need to take a leave of absence? Unless Suzy has signed a durable power of attorney, a health care proxy, and a medical information (or HIPAA) release… no one. If Suzy’s injuries leave her in a coma, the hospital may not listen to the parents unless there’s a health care proxy in place — forcing them to go to court to seek a guardianship.

Or… what if Bobby is still in school and receiving special education services? Under federal law, the parent’s right to advocate for Bobby and approve the education plan dies at age 18 unless Bobby signs a power of attorney authorizing the parent to engage in such matters, Bobby is legally on his own and at a distinct disadvantage in negotiating for his schooling.

Most attorneys will prepare these documents for a modest fee. Just make sure that it gets done.

Overuse of antipsychotics in nursing homes — the feds have caught on

According to an article in today’s New York Times, an audit by the Department of Health and Human Services found that “more than half of the antipsychotics paid for by the federal Medicare program in the first half of 2007 were “erroneous,” the audit found, costing the program $116 million for those six months.” These drugs are commonly used to treat the agitation caused by dementia — sometimes to good effect, sometimes not. Unfortunately, some nursing homes use them instead of giving their staff adequate training in behavioral interventions. In some cases, use of antipsychotics have been linked to illegal kickbacks to drug companies.

You can read the HHS audit here.

Family Caregiver Contracts — Massachusetts House Bill H01097

I am excited to be testifying before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Affairs this coming Wednesday, May 11, concerning House Bill H01097. This bill, if enacted into law, would codify the rights of elders and persons with disabilities to pay their family members for providing personal care and management. MassHealth has repeatedly opposed this concept as being a “giveaway” which increases taxpayer costs, despite federal law and agency policy mandating that services be provided in the community where possible, rather than in nursing homes. (The current version of the bill can be viewed here.) No one wants to end up in a nursing home. By paying children to provide care, elders can stay home longer, and in the process save the taxpayers money by deferring when the elder will need to apply for MassHealth long-term care coverage. It just takes longer to use up one’s assets when you are paying a child $15 an hour plus reasonable room and board than paying a nursing home $350 a day.

Please contact your legislator and the members of the Joint Committee this week and encourage them to support this important legislation.