Connecticut has a high prevalence of Medicare beneficiaries living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, often placing an enormous financial strain on caregivers who are spending thousands of dollars a year on care, reports show. “Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America,” said Jennifer Walker, vice president of communications and advocacy for the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “The cost of care is very high.”
Medicare covers most fees for doctor visits, and some hospitalization, if needed; but other costs associated with care—including home health services, transportation, diapers for incontinence—are not covered. People with Alzheimer’s often suffer from other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart and hypertension, which add to the out-of-pocket costs for care. The financial burden is forcing families who rely on Medicare to tap into retirement savings, cutback on food and medical care for themselves, reduce work hours or quit work altogether to be caregivers, according to the Alzheimer’s Association report Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.
Dozens of Connecticut doctors accepted six-figure payments from drug and medical device manufacturers in 2015 for consulting, speaking, meals and travel, with six of the 10 highest-paid physicians affiliated with academic institutions, new federal data show. The top 10 doctors – less than 0.1 percent of the 11,000 who received payments – took in $3.6 million, or nearly 15 percent of the total $24.9 million paid out. Among them is the dean of the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Robert Alpern, who received $445,398 in 2015 from two companies – Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie – in consulting fees, meals and travel expenses for serving on the boards of both companies. In 2014, he received $458,194 from the two companies. The Yale medical school began a research partnership with AbbVie in 2013, after the pharmaceutical company spun off from Abbott Laboratories.
Connecticut still ranks high among states in the use of antipsychotic drugs for elderly nursing home residents, but its rate of use has dropped 33 percent since 2011 – a bigger decline than the national average — new government data show. The data released in June by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), show that nursing home residents in Connecticut, many with dementia, are still more likely to be given antipsychotics than their counterparts in 31 other states. But the state’s usage has fallen in the last 4 ½ years at a greater rate than the average drop of 27 percent, and it is now about the same as the national average — 17.4 percent. That’s down from 26 percent in 2011. CMS has been working with states for the past five years to address the overuse of antipsychotic medications in nursing homes.
Ten Connecticut prescribers, including a Derby nurse practitioner who is under investigation by the state, were responsible for more than 22 percent of the state’s Medicare spending on potent narcotics in 2013, new federal data show. More than 4,300 Connecticut clinicians, mostly physicians, wrote Medicare prescriptions for oxycodone, morphine and other Schedule II drugs, which have a high potential for abuse and addiction, at a total cost of $40 million. But a handful of those providers accounted for the largest share of those prescriptions, an analysis of the data show. Topping the list, in both the number of prescriptions and cost, was Heather Alfonso, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the Comprehensive Pain & Headache Treatment Centers, LLC, in Derby, who wrote out 8,523 prescriptions, at a cost of $2.7 million. Statewide, the average number of prescriptions per clinician was 104, and no other prescriber had more than 5,000 Schedule II claims. The average cost per prescriber was $9,138; the next closest individual cost was $1.8 million.
A Derby nurse practitioner was among the top 10 prescribers nationally of the most potent controlled substances in Medicare’s drug program in 2012 – an anomaly in a state where Medicare records show nurse practitioners rarely prescribe such drugs, which have a high potential for abuse. Heather Alfonso, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the Comprehensive Pain & Headache Treatment Centers, LLC, wrote out 8,705 prescriptions for opioids and other Schedule II drugs in 2012 – the most prolific prescriber among all Connecticut practitioners, including pain specialists and other physicians, according to Medicare data compiled by ProPublica. She wrote out more prescriptions for the opioid Exalgo than any other Medicare provider in the country, and was the seventh highest prescriber nationally of Oxycontin, writing out more than twice as many prescriptions for that narcotic as the next highest prescriber in Connecticut. She also was the 10th highest prescriber nationally of Avinza, a morphine product. There is no indication that Alfonso’s unusual prescribing frequency drew scrutiny from state or federal officials.
Next year, seniors with private Medicare Advantage insurance policies whose doctors leave their plan may be able to leave, too, under a new Medicare rule. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversee Medicare Advantage programs, will create a special three-month enrollment period in any state where insurers make network changes “considered significant based on the affect or potential to affect, current plan enrollees,” according to an update to Medicare’s Managed Care Manual. The special enrollment period – if granted by CMS – would allow Medicare Advantage members to switch out of their plans and join traditional Medicare or another Medicare Advantage plan whose provider network includes their doctors. The mid-year special enrollment period wasn’t an option in 2013 when more than 32,000 UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members in Connecticut were affected by the company’s decision to drop thousands of doctors from its network of providers. The Fairfield County Medical Association sued the company to stop the terminations but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Connecticut still ranks high among states in the use of antipsychotic drugs for elderly nursing home residents, but its rate of use has dropped 21.6 percent since 2011 – more than the national average — new government data show. The data, released Friday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), show that nursing home residents in Connecticut – many with dementia — are still more likely to be given antipsychotics than their counterparts in 33 other states. But the state’s usage rate has declined more than the national average drop of 17.1 percent. “While quality improvement in the area of reducing off-label antipsychotic drug usage needs to be an ongoing effort, Connecticut’s skilled nursing facilities have achieved very positive change,” said Matt Barrett, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents nursing homes. He said the state’s homes are making ongoing changes in “behavioral and health care practice” to further reduce reliance on antipsychotics.
As the state works to improve its mental health system, new federal data show that hospitals in Connecticut restrain psychiatric patients at more than double the average national rate, with elderly patients facing restraint at a rate seven times the national average. In addition, the state lags behind in providing adequate post-discharge continuing care plans for psychiatric patients, especially teens and the elderly. Connecticut’s 28 inpatient psychiatric units and hospitals developed continuing-care plans for fewer than 70 percent of patients they discharged from October 2012 to March 2013 – indicating that thousands of patients may have left facilities without adequate treatment and medication plans. A C-HIT analysis of the federal data, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for the first time, show that Connecticut ranks in the top fourth of states (11th highest) in the use of physical restraints in inpatient psychiatric facilities – and is the third highest state in restraining patients 65 and older. Two psychiatric units – at Bridgeport Hospital and Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford – have the 10th and 12th highest rates of restraint use, respectively, among the 1,753 psychiatric facilities nationwide that are included in the federal reports, which cover October 2012 through March 2013.
Connecticut still ranks among the top 20 states in the use of antipsychotic drugs for elderly nursing home residents, but its rate of use has dropped 14 percent since 2011, new government data shows. The percentage of patients receiving antipsychotics in the state’s nursing homes fell from 25.72 percent in early 2011 to 22.38 percent this year, according to new data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The state now ranks the 18th highest in the country in antipsychotic use – down from 16th highest in 2011, and no longer ranked among the top four states, as it was from 2005-10. Antipsychotic drugs are an important treatment for patients with certain mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia. But the Food and Drug Administration has warned that the drugs have potentially fatal side effects when used in elderly patients with dementia.
Hospitals in Connecticut charge vastly different amounts of money for the same procedure – sometimes triple the price — according to data released Wednesday by federal Medicare officials. The cost discrepancies are detailed in a report by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which for the first time is making data available to the public on prices for the 100 most common medical procedures. The report shows what hospitals charge to Medicare, as well as the lower amounts that they collect from the government. In Connecticut, prices for most procedures varied widely among hospitals. For a cardiac pacemaker implant, for example, Yale-New Haven Hospital’s average bill was $85,902, while Manchester Memorial Hospital billed a low of $22,096. Stamford Hospital billed $25, 493 to treat simple pneumonia, while Charlotte Hungerford Hospital’s average bill was $8,177.