Saturday, April 25, 2009

Elderly Citizens Being Medicated Through Needless Mass Medications

(NaturalNews) April 24, 2009

Healthy senior citizens are being needlessly exposed to potentially risky medications due to blind adherence to national health guidelines drafted for younger people, a prominent cardiologist has warned.

"Nowadays few elderly people are allowed to enjoy being healthy," writes Edinburgh University cardiology professor emeritus Michael Oliver online in the British Medical Journal.

"A bureaucratic demand for documentation can lead to overdiagnosis, overtreatment and unnecessary anxiety," he wrote.

Specifically addressing the situation in the United Kingdom, Oliver criticizes the National Health Service (NHS) for aggressively encouraging doctors to treat people of all ages with blood pressure or cholesterol drugs intended to prevent heart disease and other chronic conditions. Yet the case for these drugs is based on studies showing that they slightly reduced the lifelong risk of heart attack, stroke or death in much younger patients.

"Preventive action may be irrelevant and even harmful in elderly people," Oliver writes. "More than 30 years ago, in his book Medical Nemesisn b , Ivan Illich called this trend 'the medicalization of health.'"

In part, the NHS encourages doctors to prescribe blood pressure and cholesterol drugs by financially rewarding doctors who achieve the Quality and Outcomes Framework targets.

"Many older people, often retired, are summoned by their general practitioner for an annual health check," Oliver writes. "They may feel reasonably well, but the NHS does not always permit such euphoria. They may be told that they have hypertension or diabetes or high cholesterol concentrations; that they are obese; that they take too little exercise, eat unhealthily and drink too much."

Yet medicating the elderly may pose a greater risk of side effects than medicating the young, he warns, and for lesser benefit.

"Are those people who have now been turned into patients warned sufficiently about side effects?" he asks. "Are minor side effects, which can be debilitating in this age group, reported to health authorities? More importantly, are doctors willing to discontinue treatment and permit these patients to return to their previously unencumbered and reasonably fit lives?"

Sources for this story include:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Preparing your children for a grandparents death

By Connie Matthiessen, senior editor

People often conceal the reality of death from young children in an effort to protect them from painful and frightening “adult” matters. In earlier times, grandparents and other relatives often passed away at home, cared for by the family, and children understood that death was part of the natural order of things. Today, the dying are often in hospitals and nursing homes, and many children have no concept of what it means to die. But experts agree that not talking about death, or dressing it up in euphemisms or platitudes, can confuse and frighten a young child. If a grandparent is ill and nearing death, here are steps you can take to help prepare your child for the loss.

Talk openly about death in advance. It’s a good idea to introduce the subject of death to your young child well before a grandparent is ailing. The death of a pet offers an excellent opportunity for such a discussion. Or you can simply show your child a dead flower or insect. Explain that death is the end of life, and that every living thing will die one day. Keep your explanation simple and to the point. Consider this the first of many conversations, as it will take your child a while to absorb the information.

If a grandparent is very ill or has received a terminal diagnosis, gently tell your child that his grandparent is going to die. It’s better to inform your child in advance, because at the time of death you may be too grief-stricken yourself to explain. It’s fine to show your child that you’re sad about the loss, but it may scare him if you disclose the news of his grandparent’s passing at a time when you’re overcome with grief.

Answer your child’s questions, no matter how difficult. Try to respond to all your child’s questions about death without distress or displeasure — or dishonesty. Many of them are likely to be difficult to answer — for example, “Will Grandma be able to see me when she’s dead?” — and your response will depend on your personal beliefs. Avoid telling your child fairy tales. If you say that Grandma is sitting on a fluffy white cloud in the sky, looking down on your child and sending kisses, your child may feel comfort in the moment but is likely to be confused about death in the long run. It’s fine to simply say that you don’t know the answer to certain questions.

Let your child spend lots of time with grandparents, if appropriate. If your child’s grandparent is up to it, arrange for them to see each other regularly. Your child may find this scary at first if you’ve just told him that his grandparent is going to die, but short visits will help dispel your child’s fear, may lift his grandparent’s spirits, and will create pleasant memories for years to come.

Put together a legacy project. Consider creating a legacy project with your parent, and involve your child in the process. Even a very young child can help select photographs for a poster or photo album. An older child may enjoy listening to his grandmother relate her life story for an oral history project; the child could also draw pictures for the final bound volume. If possible, take some pictures of your child with his grandparent and add them to the oral history. Frame one of the photos and put it in your child’s room.

Find children’s books on death and dying. Many excellent books for children deal with the subject of death. Pick a selection up from the library and purchase a few you think your child will like, so they can continue to provide comfort in the months to come.

Encourage your child to draw or paint pictures. Children often have trouble talking about their feelings and may be able to express themselves more easily through drawing or painting.

Inform your child’s teacher and other adults. Talk to your child’s teacher, to babysitters, and to other significant adults in his life. Tell them that your child’s grandparent is dying, and explain how your child is dealing with the experience. This information will help adults know how to interpret his behavior and provide support, as needed.

If you detect problems, take your child to a counselor or a child psychologist. If your child is having a very strong reaction to his grandparent’s death — if he’s acting out, is very withdrawn, or exhibits other signs of distress — it’s a good idea to consult a child psychologist. An expert can help your child work through his fear and loss.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Financial Elder Abuse Victimizes Elder's Grandson

April 7, 2009. By Heidi Turner

San Jose, CA: J.B. says that he and his grandmother have been victimized by financial abuse. Specifically, his grandmother is a victim of financial elder abuse and this abuse has had a severe impact on J's life, leaving him broke and homeless—living in an extended-stay hotel with the help of a non-profit organization and relying on doctors to provide him with pro bono medical care.

"I can't access my own money [which is in an insurance policy], but having that money in my name is blocking me from getting benefits and help with an attorney," J says. "Would you believe that a forgery by one person would land someone else homeless on the street?"

J says the situation started when his grandmother decided to buy him and his brother an insurance policy on her life.

"The intent was to give us some of her estate," J says. "But, she was taken advantage of by her insurance agent. She bought a quarter of a million dollar policy death benefit on her life. But here's the thing, my brother and I are owners of this policy—even though we never signed anything to say we would be the owners of the policy. The owner has to sign a piece of paper to acknowledge ownership because there are tax benefits. To simply be a beneficiary, nothing has to be signed. Nothing was sent to me, I was told at the time that I was a beneficiary on the policy. It is common to think that you are the beneficiary and not the owner. That was in 1997 and I was a medical resident at the time.

"In order to get the most commission, the agent had to sell the policy as an estate-planning tool, but Grandma didn't have a big enough estate to need the benefits he was selling. She needed to gift out the maximum amount of the premium every year. She gifted us each $10,000 a year for seven years. We got the money and sent it back to her via the insurance money. We were told that the policy was bought and that was how we would save death taxes. We didn't know that wasn't true. When your grandma does that for you, you say thank you, you don't look into it.

"The insurance agent and Grandma handled all the work. This product, at face value, was not worthless, but Grandma was 73 when she purchased it and she wanted my brother and I to have her money when she died. She is now 86; if she survives 6 years there is no money left and it is worth zero because the premiums go up. But that is not how the policy was sold. She was not told that the death benefit would go down without more premiums put in. We put that $10,000 each in for 7 years, thought that was it and the policy would grow. There was $140,000 put in by the end of that seventh year.

"The owners of a policy are the ones with the contract but the contract was never given to us. None of us knew about this because the contract was sent to Grandma's house. The insurance agent collected the premiums and got first check personally. Grandma paid the first premium and we paid remaining 7 years. There is a lot of intention here for him to cover up so that we would not see the contract until she died. We paid in full, thinking that when she died we would get $250,000. But we really were getting the death benefit, [which may not be equal to $250,000]."

"The insurance agent duped her, took advantage of her and manipulated her, but he didn't take her money, he took ours because she gifted it to us. The insurance agent was scamming an elder. His commission was $22,000 out of $144,000 that was put in.

"I took the papers that I supposedly signed [to become the owner of the policy] to a forgery expert, so I have proof that I didn't sign them.

In 2005, J became sick. He was unable to manage his own affairs and turned control of his assets over to his family, who paid for his health insurance through his assets. His grandmother wanted to help him out financially, so she tried to borrow money from her insurance policy.

"The agent said that she could not borrow the money off the account," J says. "I got suspicious because I knew that if you put $140,000 in the policy and have a cash value account, you should be able to borrow money off the account. I asked about seeing a copy of the policy but the agent wanted nothing to do with that. It took months and then I finally went around him and then went to his company. They finally got back to me that my brother and I needed to sign some papers to release the money.

"We wrote a joint letter [giving their grandmother permission to borrow the money] and we get a letter back saying that the signatures on the letter don't match the signatures on file. How could it not match when we didn't sign anything? I looked at my grandmother's contract and our signatures aren't on the contract. The company said that my brother and I are owners and are in complete control of the policy.

"I didn't know the policy was fraudulent, I was just suspicious."

In the meantime, J continued to struggle with his illness and ran out of money. His employment until he was sick consisted of being trained as a surgeon, which does not count towards SSI benefits, so J applied for disability and multiple doctors stated how severe his illness was. Unfortunately, the life insurance policy J's grandmother took out for him and his brother counted against him. Because J is listed as an owner of the policy, he does not qualify for disability benefits.

"I have nothing. I have been living in my car and my doctor continues to treat me pro bono, even to this day, and helps me get compassionate fills from the pharmacy. I was first denied SSDI in March 2007. A year went by with me fighting the insurance company and they are still ignoring the forgeries. Then, I find out that the policy is dwindling in assets and that the benefits are nothing if she [J's grandmother] survives past a certain age. She bought this as a whole life policy.

"There is $25,000 still in the policy and half is mine, but I have no access because it is jointly owned with my brother. The company knows that the signature was forged because they admit that whoever signed my name also signed my brother's. I was in Thailand when I supposedly signed those papers. So, I have no access to the money, the cash value in the policy is dwindling, and, because I own that life insurance policy—rather than being the beneficiary—I don't qualify for benefits.

"This all started with an insurance agent who wanted a big, fat commission. The insurance company assures my grandmother that when she dies we will get the death benefit—but they don't say we will get $250,000, just that we will get the death benefit. It's tricky wording so you don't know what is going on."


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Medical Bill Errors: Fighting Mistakes

Advocates Can Help Find Typical Medical Billing Errors
April 7, 2009

Expensive mistakes on medical bills are hard for most of us to detect, because the bills are written in a mysterious language that we don't speak.
But eight out of 10 medical bills have mistakes on them, according to Medical Billing Advocates of America.

What if you could hire somebody to translate your bills and then do battle for you?

Turns out, you can. And it might not even cost you anything.

Finding the Mistakes and Fighting Back

Artist Cynthia Kulp thought being diagnosed with breast cancer was the worst thing that could happen to her. But, then, the hospital where she received her breast cancer treatment overcharged her.

"To have to fight a hospital going through cancer treatment, overcharging me, they have to be the lowest of the low," Kulp said.

Before her lumpectomy, she said, the hospital told her the operation would cost $5,000. Instead, she got a bill for $12,700, right in the middle of her course of chemotherapy.

"You can barely function, you can barely get out of bed," she said. "How can you fight hospitals?"

So she hired Holly Wallack, a medical billing advocate, to help. Wallack found all kinds of errors on Kulp's bill, such as:

Mismatches. These are drugs that appeared on the medical bill, even though they weren't listed in the medical records.

Double charges. The hospital charged Kulp for two "first" hours in the recovery room. So Wallack asked, "How many 'first' hours do you get? Last I heard, there was only one, then he was very happy to take that charge off."

Inflated charges. The hospital billed $192 for a postoperative support bra that Wallack found on the Internet for $19 -- a tenth of the cost.

"That was one morning in one operating room in one hospital in one little town in the country," she said. "If you extrapolate that out to what's going on every day, it's mind boggling."

Other Common Medical Bill Mistakes
Here are a few other billing mistakes to watch out for:

Artist Cynthia Kulp thought being diagnosed with breast cancer was the worst thing that could happen to her. But, then, the hospital where she received her breast cancer treatment overcharged her.

Billing for things that ought to be included. That's like paying for the value meal and also being charged separately for the sides.

Misplaced decimals. ABC News saw one bill that read $874 for an $87.40 medication, for example.

Fat fingers. These are extra line items caused by clerical clumsiness. A medication might be listed seven times in a row, even though it's only supposed to be given four times a day.

"Our medical situation in the U.S. is seriously broken, and it needs to be fixed," Wallack said. "And I don't know how to fix it. I'm fixing it one bill at a time."

Wallack negotiated Kulp's bill from $12,700 down to $5,800, a $7,000 savings. "It was like a miracle that we found her," Kulp said.

There was another miracle, too. Despite having one of the most aggressive, devastating forms of the disease, Kulp fought off the breast cancer and won.

Hiring a Medical Billing Advocate

Medical billing advocates like Wallack either charge an hourly fee, ranging from $60 to $175, or they work on a contingency basis, earning a commission of 15 percent to 35 percent of the amount they save you. If you do it that way, you don't pay a dime unless they lower your bill, which makes them highly motivated to do just that.

It's a little tricky to find a medical billing advocate, because they go by many names such as claims assistance professional, medical claims professional or health care claims advocate.

And, keep in mind, it's mostly phone work, so they don't have to be in your same city. Here are a couple sources for finding somebody to assist you.

Medical Billing Resources
Medical Billing Advocates of America

National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association

Saturday, April 4, 2009

My Brother Died from Fentanyl Overdose

March 27, 2009. By Jane Mundy

Richmond, RI: "My brother was prescribed fentanyl patches for severe back pain and throat cancer," says Michael. "He was on conventional opiates for a long time but he was prescribed the fentanyl patches on July 10, 2007. The next day my mother found him dead."

Michael says Patrick, his brother, had a tracheotomy and his prognosis was good. After the surgery Patrick went to rehab in the hospital for a few weeks and was released from rehab around 10am—he filled the fentanyl prescription at the pharmacy the same day. "Patrick must have put his patch on shortly afterward," says Michael. "My mother went into his room to wake him up the next morning because he had a follow-up appointment with the doctor—she found him dead.

If only we knew about the dangers of this Duragesic patch at that time…

That morning I received a frantic call from my niece, Barbara. 'Uncle Pat has something wrong with him,' she said. 'The paramedics are here and they are trying to revive him,' she told me, frantically. He had no pulse and no heartbeat. Just a few days earlier I had talked to him. Patrick's hopes of recovery were high and he was in a good space of mind. I got him to pray with me and it was like he was given a second chance. His prognosis was good and the cancer was in remission—they had removed it all.

That morning, after I received the call, I went over to my mother's house; I was in shock. By the time I got there, the paramedics had taken Patrick to the hospital: He was dead on arrival.

When I got to their house, I don't know what made me do this, but I went through his room-- I was looking for answers. I was having a conversation with my mother who was very upset of course: We couldn't figure out what happened and guessed that maybe he choked on something. But what really happened was this: I found the fentanyl patches; I found one in his bed that was used and the rest in the Duragesic patch box on his dresser. I don't know if it fell off when they were trying to revive him or before that, but I took this one used patch and put it in a plastic baggie along with the rest of the patches and I took them home with me.

I put the patches in my lock box and they remained there until about five months ago. I was sitting at home watching TV and saw an ad about fentanyl patches. An attorney in Texas was explaining how they had killed people and it hit me like a ton of bricks—my stomach just dropped.

We were trying to get an autopsy report on my brother for a period of 16 months. We always got the same answers at the coroner's office: they were backed up and months behind on getting the final report on his death. Patrick's death certificate didn't have a cause of death; it was blank. The autopsy report couldn't concur with the death certificate because it took so long. They kept saying the reports were not done so we didn’t have any closure. The doctor at the hospital wouldn't talk to us either.

Then I saw the ad on TV. I researched the Internet and found an attorney at LawyersandSettlements. I explained to him that my brother had died, we didn't know why he died and we needed some closure. He got the autopsy report, after 16 months. It said 'acute opiate poisoning, respiratory failure resulting in an accidental death'.
I was able to preserve the patch and I sent it to my attorney; the dates on the package fall within the dates of the recall. This fentanyl patch leaked and that's what I believe killed him. And that is what my lawyer believes.

Patrick was only 47 years old when he died and his daughter is only 13. I am so angry about it. Something that was supposed to help ended up killing my brother."

See also: Leaky patches recalled: