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Understanding The Goals Of Healthcare Reform For Seniors

April 8, 2010

With a certain level of panic affecting seniors about the changes in the healthcare system, the American Geriatric Society—the very organization whose mission is better care for seniors—recently issued a reassuring recap about the improvements to come. "The passage of this final legislation will add to the many benefits that healthcare reform offers older adults," said AGS President Cheryl Phillips, MD. "All told, healthcare reform includes numerous, important provisions that will improve elder healthcare now and in the future and support geriatrics careers. The AGS has long advocated for these provisions." Currently, doctors aren’t financially encouraged to go into careers related to elder care. Provisions in the legislation will address this in a number of ways. According to AGS, the Medicare payment policy will be more equitable in the way it reimburses those who care for older adults. It will offer geriatricians and other primary care providers a 10% Medicare bonus payment for designated primary care services for the next five years and initiate a periodic review of physicians' services that are potentially misvalued. And it will create a physician "value-based payment program" aimed at improving the quality of care beneficiaries receive. All these steps should benefit both the patient and the doctor, vitally important considering projections that show the number of geriatricians falling as the number of seniors increases. Among other plans is the establishment of an "Innovation Center" to test new payment and care delivery approaches aimed at further enhancing the quality of eldercare and improving cost-effectiveness. It will fund demonstration projects to evaluate promising models of care like those providing comprehensive geriatric assessments and care coordination for older patients with multiple chronic illnesses and cognitive impairment. The legislation also calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a national strategy for improving the quality of care provided through Medicare and other programs. The reforms also include important provisions that AGS and the Eldercare Workforce Alliance have long advocated for: expanding geriatrics training programs, including advanced training programs that prepare specialists to meet the needs of the most complex and most frail older patients, eldercare training programs for the direct-care workers and family caregivers who provide day-to-day care for millions of America's seniors. Other provisions in the legislation will improve seniors' health by eliminating Medicare beneficiaries' co-pays and deductibles for preventive care, by establishing new programs to lower hospital readmission rates among Medicare patients and, as mentioned in a recent Newsflash, the ultimate closing of the prescription drug donut hole.