ACL Update 9-27-19


Beware of a Growing Medicare Scam: “Free Genetic Testing”

By Rebecca Kinney, Acting Director, Office of Healthcare Information and Counseling, ACL

Over the past few years, DNA tests have become popular across the country. Unfortunately unscrupulous people are taking advantage of the buzz around these tests to scam Medicare beneficiaries.

Scammers will often target Medicare beneficiaries through telemarketing calls, booths at public events, health fairs, and door-to-door visits. They offer "free" genetic testing to help recipients avoid diseases or find the right medications.

The scammers claim that the testing is covered by Medicare, and therefore is free to the beneficiary. In reality, Medicare only covers genetic testing in limited situations, and only when ordered by the beneficiary’s physician. If a company bills Medicare for genetic testing, and Medicare denies the claim, the beneficiary could be responsible for the entire cost of the test – which often totals around $10,000.

In other cases, the scammers are simply trying to obtain Medicare numbers they can use to steal a beneficiary's medical identity or to fraudulently bill Medicare for services they did not provide. Such fraud hurts not just Medicare beneficiaries, but all American tax payers whose contributions keep Medicare strong.

The Administration for Community Living (ACL) offers this advice to avoid being scammed:

  • Do not accept genetic testing services, including a cheek swab, from someone at a community event, a local fair, a farmer’s market, a parking lot, or any other large event.
  • Always be cautious about giving out your personal information, including your Medicare number.
  • If you receive a genetic testing kit in the mail, don't accept it unless it was ordered by your physician. Refuse the delivery or return it to the sender and keep a record of the sender's name and the date you returned the items.
  • Always review your Medicare Summary Notice or Explanation of Benefits. The words “gene analysis” or “molecular pathology” may indicate questionable genetic testing.

If you received a cheek swab or a screening that was not ordered by a trusted provider, or have any concerns about billing errors or possible fraud, contact your local Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). The SMP program, funded by the U.S. Administration for Community Living, helps Medicare beneficiaries protect themselves from Medicare fraud, errors, and abuse and detect and report them when they occur. To find your local SMP visit: or call 1-877-808-2468.

More resources:

ACL Update 9-23-19


ACL Elder Justice Grants to Strengthen Legal Assistance Programs, APS Systems

ACL is awarding a total of $1.25 million in funding to help six legal assistance organizations strengthen programs serving older adults. The first-ever Legal Assistance Enhancement Program (LAEP) funding will focus on four key areas: outreach, partnerships, intake, and delivery. Grantees will address a diverse set of issues including the opioid epidemic, supporting grandparents raising grandchildren, utilizing technology to advance elder justice, Medical-Legal Partnerships, reaching under-served communities, and disaster recovery.

A recent Legal Services Corporation report found that elders seek legal assistance for less than 20% percent of their legal issues. Gaps in access to legal assistance are particularly pronounced among low-income elders, elders facing Isolation by virtue of geography or language, and elders living in rural, frontier, or tribal communities. Access to quality legal assistance can help improve health and wellness outcomes for older adults by promoting personal and economic independence, preserving access to appropriate services, and supporting the right to live free from (or recover from) the experience of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation.

ACL is also awarding $2.8 million to help 10 states strengthen their adult protective services (APS) systems through innovations and improvements in practice, services, data collection, and reporting. Alaska, New Jersey, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia are receiving State APS Enhancement Grants for the first time while Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, and Washington will build on work funded by previous State APS Enhancements. Innovative approaches proposed by states include a restorative justice program and closer partnerships with tribes. 

State APS systems investigate reports of abuse and exploitation of older adults and people with disabilities. They provide support and case-management, and connect people facing abuse to a variety of protective, emergency, and support services.

Legal Assistance Enhancement Program Award Recipients

  • Legal Services Alabama will use a variety of strategies including an integrated point of contact, specialized community education and outreach, and full on-site services in targeted underserved areas to provide enhanced and coordinated legal services to older Alabamians.
  • The Public Law Center, in partnership with Council on Aging Southern California, will expand and maintain an elder justice project for low-income older adults in Orange County, CA over three years. The project will have a specific focus on enhancing services for victims of elder abuse.
  • Cherry Street Services, in partnership with Legal Aid of Western Michigan, will enhance and expand its use of a Medical-Legal Partnership model to address the social factors that can contribute to poor health.
  • SeniorLAW Center, and its partners in the aging network and legal community, will respond to the opioid crisis by enhancing legal assistance and access to justice for older Pennsylvanians raising grandchildren and intergenerational families.
  • Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc., along with diverse partners, will increase ILAS’s ability to identify and provide legal aid to Idaho seniors statewide by performing statewide education and outreach and developing a Legal Risk Detector and self-assessment app.
  • Legal Services of North Florida, in partnership with Legal Services of Greater Miami and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, will develop a replicable, statewide model to improve access to legal assistance for elders with critical needs including elders recovering from disasters, elders who are homeless or on the cusp of homelessness, elders who are victims of physical abuse, and elders who have been victimized by consumer scams and other forms of economic exploitation.

State APS Enhancement Grant Recipients

  • The Alabama Department of Human Resources will enhance system documentation and data tracking to improve outcomes for APS clients. Alabama will implement a comprehensive dashboard system to provide quick ad hoc reports and improve statewide data quality.
  • The Alaska Division of Senior and Disability Services will work with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency to implement Structured Decision Making instruments through a web based data collection and storage system. Alaska will also train APS caseworkers to use these new assessment tools to support the system's work.
  • The Arizona Department of Economic Security will develop a program of enhanced investigator training to meet the challenges of recruitment and retention while providing clients with trained, culturally competent, and committed investigators.
  • The Illinois Department of Aging will enhance APS training and outreach to the public and professionals, with the goal of improving APS caseworker and supervisor response to an increase in reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation and improve relationships between APS, law enforcement, and other legal professionals.
  • The New Jersey Department of Human Services will design and build a database system that will meet the case management and programmatic needs of NJ APS. This will include development of a framework for statewide uniform NJ APS data collection practices and expansion of data elements to include all phases of APS involvement, alignment of data collection with NAMRS, and consolidation of the existing county based databases into a single cloud-based comprehensive information management system.
  • The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services will partner with UT Health, the Tarrant Count DA, Harris County DA, Houston Senior Justice Assessment Center, TEAM Institute, and Eide Bailey LLP to improve investigations and client services by incorporating high quality forensic accounting into standard investigative systems and practices, including enhancing training for APS investigators on financial exploitation and developing financial exploitation investigation checklists and law enforcement reporting protocol.
  • The Utah State Office of Adult Protective Services will enhance services to vulnerable adults in Utah by improving system infrastructure and services aimed at financial exploitation. Their project will expand Utah’s reporting capabilities to NAMRS, improve the quality of data collection, improve tools for assessing capacity and protective need for victims of financial exploitation, and establish a multi-disciplinary team approach with community partners focusing on victims of financial exploitation.
  • The Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living will create, coordinate, and maintain a Restorative Justice Program to serve both victims and perpetrators of adult maltreatment. The restorative justice program will provide substantiated perpetrators additional options for restitution, rather than placement on the Vermont Adult Abuse Registry, with the goal of decreasing recidivism among offenders and reducing re-victimization rates.
  • The Washington Department of Social and Health Services, Aging and Long-Term Support Administration will expand and improve their APS system. Efforts will include developing a training curriculum for statewide use with a focus on self-neglect and financial exploitation, creating and validating risk and safety assessment decision tools, integrating a financial tool to assist in financial exploitation determinations. They will also expand outreach and collaborations with community partners, tribal government, and law enforcement through multi-disciplinary teams and Elder Justice Centers (enhanced multi-disciplinary teams).
  • The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources will develop, implement, and evaluate a new standardized determination tool for APS referrals; develop a new adult services monthly management report; develop training curriculum; and enhance community outreach.

ACL Update 09-12-19


Emergency Preparedness Is Everyone’s Business

By ACL Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging Lance Robertson

Every September, National Preparedness Month brings focus to disaster planning and getting ready for emergencies. This year’s theme says it best – we should aim to be “Prepared, Not Scared.”

Of course, even with the best plan, a catastrophic storm, or wildfire, or any other kind of emergency situation can still be very scary. And no amount of preparation will completely eliminate the stress of evacuating your home. But with a comprehensive, individualized emergency plan, no one should have to be afraid for their life, health, or independence.

Emergency preparation is important for everyone. However, older adults and people with disabilities often face additional challenges during emergencies because of health issues, mobility challenges, and use of devices that rely on power. Those individual circumstances make having a plan absolutely critical.

Whether you’re updating your existing plan, or creating one for the first time, asking yourself these questions can help frame what you need to think about:

  • What kinds of disasters are most likely to affect your community?
  • How might a disaster affect you?
  • Is evacuation a likely possibility? Where would you go?
  • Could you make it on your own for at least three days? What would you need?
  • What problems would you experience if you did not have power for 8 hours? 24 hours? A week?

Every plan will be different, based on individual needs. However, everyone should have an emergency kit that includes food, water, and at least a week of medications. Include this this card, completed with your vital medical information, and if you have a communication-related disability, this card can help first-responders assist you in the way that is best for you. Include a flashlight and extra batteries, and first aid supplies. has an outstanding emergency kit checklist that will help you think of everything you need. (For additional ideas, see this checklist for kids.)

Other things to think about when you’re putting together your plan include:

  • Which shelters are able to accommodate your individual needs? If possible, be ready to tell first responders, so that you are able to evacuate with your family, service animal, caregiver, personal assistant, and assistive technology devices and supplies.
  • Plan ahead for accessible transportation. Work with local services, public transportation or paratransit to identify your options, and include contact information in your emergency kit.
  • If you are dependent on dialysis or other life-sustaining medical treatment, note the location and availability of more than one facility.
  • If you use in-home medical equipment that requires electricity, talk to your health care provider about how you can prepare for a power outage.
  • If you use an augmentative communications device or other assistive technologies, plan for how you will communicate with emergency personnel if your equipment is not working -- this might include laminated cards with phrases, pictures or pictograms.
  • If you use assistive technology, make sure your plan considers what you will need to take them with you. Have extra batteries available. To simplify replacing equipment that is lost or destroyed, your emergency kit should include model information, where the equipment was purchased, and how it was paid for (Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, etc.).
  • Don’t forget to include your service animals and pets in your planning. Have an emergency kit that includes food, water, medicines, and first aid supplies for them, too.

Finally, consider the help you may need to execute your emergency plan. Create a support network of friends, family and others who can assist you during an emergency, and share your disaster plans with them.

National Preparedness Month also is a great time for communities to make sure their disaster response and recovery plans consider the needs of older adults and people with disabilities. Across the nation, the community-based organizations that form the aging and disability networks are providing critical expertise that is resulting in emergency plans that are more inclusive and accessible than ever before. If you are working to improve your community’s plan, I encourage you to bring the networks in as partners.

Whether you’re working on your personal emergency plan, are part of a community planning team, or are supporting older adults and people with disabilities in the community (or all of the above!), ACL’s website can point you to many resources available to help.

Planning for disasters is everyone’s business, and together, we can make sure everyone is included.

ACL Update 6-27-19

Creating a More Welcoming World for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind Individuals

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan participates in technology demonstration at Gallaudet University with David Thornton.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan participates in technology demonstration simulating a noisy real-world environment
at Gallaudet University with David Thornton.

From smartphones to social media, technology is reshaping our world. For people with disabilities, advancements in technology and engineering have the potential to knock down long-standing barriers to communication, employment, and full community participation. ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) works to translate that potential into real-life solutions that increase choices, opportunities, and accommodations.

For more than 30 years, NIDILRR has funded a variety of research projects at Gallaudet University — a pioneer in advancing educational opportunities and research for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. On June 25, HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson got an up-close look at the impact of Gallaudet’s NIDILRR-funded work at the university in Washington, DC.

NIDILRR-funded projects at Gallaudet include the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Improving the Accessibility, Usability, and Performance of Technology for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. A key principle behind Gallaudet’s work is that people who are deaf or hard of hearing should be directly involved in developing solutions to address the barriers they experience.

“No one walks in our shoes or has our experience,” said Christian Vogler, Ph.D., Director of Gallaudet’s Technology Access Program. Involving the community in these projects ensures that technologies address real-life needs and situations. Deputy Secretary Hargan, who learned American Sign Language as a child to communicate with a friend, was eager to experience first-hand how some of this technology works. Sitting in the center of an elaborate speaker system, he experienced what it was like for people who are hard of hearing to follow a conversation while driving. Individuals experiencing hearing loss will often test a hearing aid in a clinic, but then grow frustrated when the device does not work as well in the real world. The RERC’s simulation technology helps audiologists adjust hearing aid settings to optimize communication in realistic situations and increase use and usability of hearing aids.

In the lab next door, ACL Administrator Lance Robertson watched as David Bush, a consumer participant in the research project, demonstrated how a RERC-developed tele-rehabilitation program taught him to use his cochlear implant more effectively. Bush lost his hearing as an adult due to a degenerative condition that runs in his family. He first used hearing aids, but in 2016 received a cochlear implant, which has made a “dramatic difference” in his ability to communicate with others.

Graduate student Kate Witham demonstrates technologies to ACL Administrator Lance Robertson and HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.

Graduate student Kate Witham demonstrates a tele-rehabilitation program for ACL Administrator Lance Robertson and HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.

Also on hand was Judy Alden, who is part of a train-the-trainer program the RERC is piloting with the Hearing Loss Association of America. The program recruits trainers who are deaf or hard of hearing to train others experiencing hearing loss in using hearing technology. It aims to increase knowledge, skills, and understanding of hearing loss. Alden, who started losing hearing in her 30s and who has used hearing aids for more than 20 years, wants to help prevent the isolation that may come with hearing loss. She has reached more than 175 health professionals, older adults, and family members through formal sessions and many more through informal networking.

Linda Kozma-Spytek captured the idea behind the project with a simple question, “who better to learn from if you're a new hearing aid learner than people who have gone through this experience before?”

Reflecting on the impact of the RERC’s work, Gallaudet University President Roberta (Bobbi) Cordano, J.D. said, “we know that the work that we're doing here is supporting the personal and professional success of deaf and hard of hearing individuals throughout their lifespan.”

“We're creating a world that is more welcoming and more supportive for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind individuals,” President Cordano added.

Learn more about NIDILRR’s RERC Program.

ACL Update 05-01-2019



Older Americans Month logo

by Assistant Secretary for Aging and ACL Administrator Lance Robertson

Every day, all around us, older adults make a positive impact in our communities. As employees, volunteers, mentors, and advocates, they are an integral part of America’s social fabric. Their experience and insights enrich and strengthen our neighborhoods, workplaces, and families.

That’s why ACL takes time each May to honor their valuable contributions and celebrate Older Americans Month (OAM). People of all ages can celebrate OAM and help older adults thrive. With the 2019 theme, Connect, Create, and Contribute, ACL invites you to:

  • Connect with friends, family, and services that support participation
  • Create through activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment
  • Contribute time, talent, and life experience to benefit others

ACL offers information about resources to assist older adults, family members, care providers, organizations, and neighbors connect, create, and contribute. We have also put together a list of suggested activities to celebrate OAM.

We encourage you to Connect, Create, and Contribute for stronger communities this month and throughout the year. Visit for ways to get started and watch our blog for upcoming posts that explore ways to connect, create, and contribute in your communities.

Follow ACL on Twitter and Facebook, and join the conversation using #OAM19 and #ConnectCreateContribute.

Go to the official OAM website

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