Affordable Care Act Lower Costs, Offers Protection for Seniors

Tim Watt  |  March 31, 2014

Like many Americans, residents of senior living may have questions and uncertainties about how recent legislation regarding health care and Medicare affects them. Clarification from U.S. News & World Report helps explain some of the changes and their implications for aging members of the national population. Here's what you need to know:

Lower costs for prescription drugs
According to the news source, changes to Medicare Part D - the section concerning medications - increase coverage for seniors who take prescription drugs. Previously, seniors were required to pay out of pocket for the first $4,550 in annual medication spending, but that will no longer be the case. In 2013, Medicare coverage extended to offer older adults a 50 percent cut on brand name drugs, and a 20 percent discount for generic options. By 2020, the deductible for seniors should be reduced to $310.

The benefit of this change is primarily that it encourages older adults to stick with their medications. By making prescription drugs more affordable, people are less likely to skimp on the recommended dosages, which could risk worsening their conditions. In the long term, the cost of caring for serious illness typically exceeds that of caring for issues as they arise, so the idea is that this measure will ease the potential burden on the U.S. economy as a whole.

Free preventative care
Like promoting prescription drugs, fighting the underlying cause of conditions can help prevent them from ever becoming a major concern. According to the news source, Medicare patients have access to certain resources that can identify issues before they get out of hand. A complimentary annual wellness visit includes personalized consultation about topics such as existing medications and conditions, dietary recommendations, and a review of immunizations.

Nicole Duritz, vice president for health, education and outreach at the AARP, reminded seniors that they should still check with their physician about any costs they may incur based on recommended medications or treatments. This can prevent any surprise bills from popping up.

Improved nursing home transparency
The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services designed the Nursing Home Compare website to help older adults understand their options when it comes to retirement living, and as a quick reference for viewing side-by-side information about various homes and services. According to the source, new requirements mandate that ownership be listed among information about each residence as well, aimed at aiding seniors in making their housing decisions.

In addition, recent changes have made it easier for residents to file a complaint if they are not satisfied by the services provided in their retirement community. Nursing homes that plan to close are also required to give residents a wider window of notice, so that they have time to find appropriate accommodations.

Comprehensive online support
According to the news source, recipients of federal medical aid can review their benefits at MyMedicare.gov. This can help prevent mistakes from being made and fraudulent claims from occurring. Updates to the law included an addition of $350 million over the coming decade, to increase vigilance for innocent misfiles as well as people trying to take advantage of the system.

Duritz reminded senior patients that they can help watch their own account as well. Using the online tool, they are able to review billing information, receipts for previous care, and be on the lookout for anything that looks suspicious. If older adults or family members spot a charge or service that seems out of the ordinary, they can get in touch with the Medicare Office of the Inspector General at (800) 447-8477.

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