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Want to Win a Genius Grant? Try Caring for the Elderly

Like many other cosseted Gen X-ers, I sometimes fantasize about winning a MacArthur Fellowship, one of those renowned “genius grants” that comes with a prize of $500,000, along with the right to require your friends to refer to you as “Mr. Genius” in all conversations and emails. My fantasy usually involves being recognized for something glamorous and artsy  — playing incendiary bluegrass mandolin, for example. But based on recent history, my odds would probably be better if I concentrated on caring for the elderly.

Geriatricians, the physicians who specialize in the under-recognized work of treating the health problems of older patients, have done considerably better in the MacArthur sweepstakes in recent years than mandolinists or even “raw, vernacular” Dominican-American novelists. Among this year’s honorees is Eric Coleman, a medical professor at the University of Colorado at Denver who specializes in reducing hospital readmissions for elderly patients. He’s the third geriatrician in the last five years to win a grant, following in the footsteps of Mary Tinetti (2009) and Diane Meier (2008). Mom was right: I really should have gone to med school.

Genius envy aside, Coleman’s work is both important and very much at the center of the ongoing debate over cutting health-care costs. As many as 20 percent of Medicare patients who are discharged from hospitals are readmitted within 30 days, and many of those return trips are caused by miscommunication, medication problems and caregiver errors. In the aggregate, it’s a big and costly problem: Just this week, Medicare launched a “pay for performance” program that, among other things, will withhold money from some hospitals if their readmission rates are deemed to be too high. Coleman’s Care Transitions Intervention program has shown promise in reducing such rates; the socially conscious folks at the MacArthur Foundation are no doubt eager to see more of the health-care sector playing tunes from Coleman’s songbook.



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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.