A major lung operation for people over 65 suffering from severe emphysema, which presently costs $60,000, will henceforth be paid for by Medicare as part of a member’s coverage, it was announced last week.
Private insurers and Medicaid usually follow the Medicare coverage example.
Emphysema, which attacks the air sacs in the lungs making it very difficult to breathe, is frequently caused by excessive smoking. The disease is incurable and usually fatal and is responsible for 100,000 deaths in the United States every year.
Two million Americans suffer from the disease, but it’s estimated that only about 10,000 would qualify for the surgical coverage according to medical researchers.
Under the operation, called lung volume reduction, diseased areas of the lung are removed so that the remaining healthy lung tissue works better.
Two groups of patients would be covered for the surgical procedure, Medicare officials said: those suffering from severe emphysema of the upper lobes of the lung and those with severe disease elsewhere in the lungs who are unable to exercise. To ensure that candidates for the surgery are not at high risk to die from the procedure, certain other tests would be mandated before a decision to operate is made.
Medicare would also mandate that surgery candidates would have to undergo an extensive education and exercise regimen both before and after the operation.
Medicare will permit the surgery to be covered only at certain hospitals which are accredited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Those hospitals have not been selected yet.
Lung reduction surgery was developed in the last 10 years and quickly became popular. However, no extensive studies have been done to establish how safe or effective it is. For a time, Medicare paid for the operation, but then stopped because of lack of data. The decision to resume coverage was based on a study called the National Emphysema Treatment Trial (NETT).
Started in 1996, the government sponsored NETT found that in 25 percent of participants, the operation improved quality of life and length of life. However, in some cases it did not extend longevity or provide an improved quality of life. To be eligible for the operation, an emphysema sufferer had to be enrolled in NETT.
BEAUTIFICATION PROGRAM ELIGIBILITY EXPANDED: Assemblymember Ivan Lafayette has announced that Governor George Pataki has signed into law a bill which will make more seniors eligible for the Green Thumb Environmental Beautification Program, which provides senior citizens with an opportunity to work on projects which enhance the environment of New York state, Lafayette explained.
"The program functions through a non-profit organization and employs persons over 55 years of age," the Jackson Heights lawmaker said. "Various state agencies contract for the performance of services provided by these senior citizens."
At present income ceilings govern eligibility for Green Thumb. The income ceiling for persons living alone is $15,504; for an individual living in someone else’s home $11,626; it’s $26,581 for a couple living alone; and $19,937 for a couple living in another person’s or couple’s home.
The income ceilings have been increased, respectively, from $15,504 to $15,722; from $11,626 to $11,789; from $26,581 to $26,953, and from $19,937 to $20,216. The increased income limitations reflect the 2.6 percent Social Security cost of living increase which went into effect last January 1.
"This law will prevent senior citizens from getting ‘bumped’ out of eligibility [for Green Thumb] by these increases in the COLA," Lafayette said.
For additional information on how to get involved in Green Thumb, Lafayette said, call 212-788-8070.
AARP TO PUBLISH BOOKS: AARP has entered into an agreement with Sterling Publishing, the publishing arm of Barnes & Noble, to have at least eight books published each year on topics ranging from finances to health.
Formally known as the American Association of Retired Persons, the non-profit AARP is an information source and advocate for seniors. It is involved in all phases of seniors’ lives. Presumably the books will parallel these interests.
MEETING: Presenting a topic of current interest, AARP Chapter No. 2889 will meet next Wednesday, September 3 at 12:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, 54-05 Seabury St., Elmhurst, to hear a talk by a power generating firm representative on "Keeping the Lights On."
END-OF-SUMMER MEETING: Richmond Hill AARP Chapter No. 1762 will hold its first meeting after the summer on Thursday, September 11 at Church of the Resurrection, 85-09 118th St., Kew Gardens, at 1 p.m. The agenda includes plans, programs, guests and trips scheduled for the fall through next spring.