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Happy Birthday Medicare

A few days ago, July 30 to be exact, we celebrated the 55th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid. Most of us were pretty young to remember this important even,t but it has had a tremendous impact on our lives.

Before Medicare, about half of those 65 and older did not have any health insurance; they were one illness away from bankruptcy. Today, over 99% of seniors have health insurance. The signing of the amendments to the Social Security Act, on July 30 1965, gave birth to Medicare, and was the culmination of almost a decade of effort to give older Americans the safety of health insurance. It was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in the Harry S. Truman library. President Truman and his wife, Bess, were present at the signing and were the first to sign up for the new program. One important and often overlooked fact about the Medicare program was its role in spurring integration. Medicare would not pay providers, hospitals, physicians, etc. unless they were desegregated. This had quite an impact on our society in 1965. Medicare has been changed and expanded over the years. One of the biggest changes was the addition of prescription drug coverage, Medicare Part D, in 2003, by President George W. Bush.

Medicare consists of four main areas:

  • Part A, Hospital/Hospice Insurance – This covers most inpatient hospital services when the patient is admitted to the hospital.
  • Part B, Medical Insurance – Covers outpatient costs including doctors, medical equipment, tests and medicine administered by the doctor.
  • Part C, Medicare Advantage – This addition to Medicare was passed in 1997 and gave beneficiaries a choice to move from fee-for-service insurance to a coordinated care approach that now incorporates health and prescription drug insurance.
  • Part D, Prescription Drug Insurance – Covers most self-administered prescription drugs.

You can find out more about Medicare by clicking here to go to our short Medicare 101 video on the basics of Medicare.

Over the years, Medicare has made a huge impact on our quality of life. It has allowed us peace of mind as we neared retirement, helped us stay active and sometimes even saved our life. By having this insurance, we can get the care we need before our health problems become serious. One example of this improvement is the reduction of trips to the hospital that occurred when Part D was passed and people had increased access to prescription drugs. It is important that we encourage our government to continue to support this critical program. As we continue to live longer, the demand on the program has increased. Medicare is not sustainable unless we make the necessary financial arrangements to ensure it is there for our children and grandchildren.

At the risk of telling you how old I am, I’ll tell you that I turned 17 a month after Medicare was born. I don’t think I paid any attention to its birth, but I did notice pretty quickly, as I started working, that there was this sizable deduction in my pay check, part of which went into the trust fund to finance Medicare. As I found out more about the program, I came to think this money I was giving the government was like a contract. If I gave them part of my hard-earned money every month, they promised that when I turned 65 they would provide me with basic high quality healthcare that was reliable and accessible. We should expect our government to remember this promise 55 years later.

As health costs increase, politicians, especially as they run for office in the next 100 days, will offer many changes and so-called improvements to Medicare. It will be difficult, but important, to wade through their rhetoric and ascertain the true nature of their proposals. We should expect everyone that runs for office to remember the promise they made 55 years ago. We count on Medicare and expect it to be there when we need it.

I think we all can say happy 55th birthday to this life improving and life saving program. It made an immediate impact to my grandparents’ lives in 1965, to my parents’ lives 15 years later and to my life 48 years later. We all need to tell those who represent us in Washington that we need them to maintain this critical program. We also need to tell those who are running for office that we expect them to preserve the reliability, accessibility, and quality of Medicare.

I hope you’re staying safe and finding joy in these unique times.

Thair



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Executive Orders on Drug Prices

Last Friday President Trump signed four executive orders aimed at lowering drug prices. These executive orders are not small tweaks, they are big changes, changes that could have a long-term effect on both the safety and future innovation of your prescription drugs.

Many have already questioned both the timing and rhetoric surrounding the signing of these four executive orders. I will let others delve into those issues. I will go over the executive orders with an emphasis on their likely impact on you.

These changes were not a sudden brainstorm of the White House, they have proposed some form of three of the four approaches to lowering drug prices for over two years. It is worth noting that the President altered some of the earlier approaches in these latest executive orders. If you’d like some background information on who the players are in our healthcare system you can click here to access one of my earlier blogs.

Now, let’s dive into these four executive orders –

Importation – This proposal would give states, pharmacies, and drug wholesalers the right to import drugs from Canada. The administration thinks this would offer lower prices to the states, pharmacies, and drug wholesalers. Our own Congressional Budget Office (the bi-partisan government agency that calculates the economic impact of proposed government legislation, regulations, and executive orders) found, when this approach was first proposed, that there were no savings resulting from this type of importation. Furthermore, the Canadian government said that they would not and could not support this type of importation and would not guarantee the validity of the drugs obtained this way. It is also unsettling to know that this approach would bypass the United States’ established and proven safe supply lines. We know how many scammers have sprung up during the coronavirus pandemic, can you imagine what would happen if these same criminals could infiltrate our prescription drug supply lines through this type of importation? It seems that this approach threatens our safety without offering any savings. This doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

Rebates – This executive order would resurrect an approach that would move rebates paid by drug companies closer to the patient. While there are perverse incentives in our drug supply line that have produced higher list prices without necessarily lowering the cost to patients, this may not be the best way to solve this problem. The drug supply line is complicated, and this approach would be extremely difficult to implement and there is no guarantee that any of the savings would reach you, the patient. President Trump introduced this approach last year and then rescinded it. It is interesting that it suddenly has reappeared.

International Pricing Index – This is another approach that has been around for years and this latest approach, called “the most favored nation” in the executive order, is even worse than the original proposal. It fixes the price of a drug at the lowest price of one or more of the “favored” nations. This is price fixing at its worst. We are setting a price based on countries with single payer systems, where the government dictates who gets what medicine. The patients in these countries wait years for new medicines. Of the 74 cancer drugs launched between 2011-2018, 95% are available in the United States, compared with 74% in the UK, 49% in Japan, and 8% in Greece. While it is wrong for these countries not to help pay for the research and development of drugs, there are other ways to approach this problem rather than disrupting an industry that has year over year produced lifesaving and life altering drugs and is right now in an all-out effort to find medicines and vaccines to treat the COVID-19 virus. Fixing prices is short sighted and has never worked as a viable economic solution. The industry disruption and the projected reduction in innovation will affect us all. This lack of new drugs might have a direct effect on you or your loved ones. The one thing we shouldn’t limit is our hope for future cures.

Insulin Discounts – This program requires drug manufacturers to give huge discounts to hospitals and community centers who serve the poor. Insulin prices have skyrocketed and has jeopardized the access to this life saving drug. One proposed solution is the Part D Senior Savings Model (see my recent blog here). A program to limit the cost of insulin to the poor and indigent could be added and tested in this model rather than relying on the 340b program to administer this approach. The 340b program, is a government entity that grants huge discounts for providers who serve the poor and indigent. There are solutions to providing diabetics with affordable insulin. An executive order dictating this implementation may not be the best solution, especially at this time.

As you can see, these proposed solutions are not what we need to improve our healthcare. There are workable solutions that could be developed in the arena of bi-partisan cooperation, one of the few areas where this might be the case. An approach that includes more than just the executive branch of our government might produce the workable solutions we are looking for. We need to tell those that represent us in Washington that the four executive orders are not the solutions we need to improve our healthcare.



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The Medicare Part D Senior Savings Model

Lowering drug prices has been a lot like Charles Warner’s quote, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. Doing anything about drug prices has been as difficult as changing the weather, primarily because it is complicated. I have always been a champion of the free market, it was this market competition that has kept Medicare’s drug insurance costs low. But, as always is the case in healthcare matters, there must be regulations and guard rails established that will ensure safety and access. Part D, Medicare’s drug insurance program, is a government program and the government, through legislation, regulation and rulemaking, is responsible for maintaining the safeguards and guard rails in Part D. Access, as it pertains to prescription drugs, has often been impacted by the out-of-pocket costs paid by the consumer. It was this out-of-pocket cost that caused the consumer to walk away from the drug store counter without their prescription drugs.

Often the drug price rhetoric focuses on a drug’s list price, or the rebates paid by different entities in the supply line, or what percentage of the cost that manufacturers and insurance companies pay during the different phases of Medicare Part D . . . but my focus, as it always will be on Seniors Speak Out, is on you, the patient. What will any proposed change do to the amount of money you spend on your healthcare. There is such a change that has been proposed that will address the out-of-pocket costs paid by consumers for insulin, it is the Medicare Part D Senior Savings Model.

This Savings Model addresses a problem with the rapidly escalating consumer cost of insulin. These rising costs have forced patients to make difficult decisions on what to eliminate from their life to pay for their insulin or, in some cases, forced them to ration or curtail their insulin use. Controlling diabetes is essential for the overall health of those with this disease. Uncontrolled diabetes threatens every other aspect of a patient’s health. Ensuring a diabetic had access to his/her required insulin will have a huge effect on their overall health and save money in the long run. It made sense to attack these suddenly skyrocketing costs quickly.

CMS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, proposed the Savings Model as a test of a change to the pricing of insulin that would lower the cost to the patient. It would cap the out-of-pocket costs for insulin to $35 per month, regardless of which phase of Part D coverage the patient is in and is predicted to save $446 dollars a year. This is significant and especially important given the fluctuations in cost that patients have seen depending on which phase of coverage they are in. The chart below shows that a patient may see big out-of-pocket costs early in their year of coverage. This front loading in cost would be the logical point where insulin use would be rationed or stopped. This interruption could have long range effects on health that might not be alleviated later in the year when the costs would come down and usage would return to normal. The long-term damage to the patient’s health would have already occurred. The proposed model would smooth the costs into a predictable, affordable, monthly outlay that could be budgeted.

There has been widespread acceptance of this model. As of now, an estimated 58% of people currently enrolled in Medicare Part D are covered by plans that will institute the Senior Savings Model. The model is scheduled to be implemented starting January 1,  2021, which means it will be important for those who use insulin to review their coverage during this year’s open enrollment or sign-up period (October 15 to December 7, 2020) and ensure they enroll in a Part D plan that is participating in the Senior Savings Model.

While this model will test that the desired outcomes are realized, it is important that significant information is gathered so that changes can be made and opportunities for increased efficiencies recognized when the final policy is implemented.

I hope that those of you who use insulin will see your costs reduced, smoothed out and predictable as this model is implemented next year.

Thair



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Reopening – Staying Safe and Healthy

The pandemic is still with us . . . I’m not sure any of us thought that statement would be in our vocabulary in January, but it is and it will be true for a while more. Now is a good time to review where we are with COVID-19, what should we be doing to stay safe and how do we continue to stay healthy.

Shutting down our economy seemed to work initially but the often talked about resurgence, as we reopened, has come true. Many states are breaking records for new cases and the resulting deaths, while lagging somewhat, have begun to rise. Our Government, both at the Federal and State level, have been trying to balance the reopening of our economy with the risk of citizens catching the COVID-19 virus. They realized that keeping our economy shut down ran the risk of pushing many to poverty and the ensuing health risks that always followed. The stimulus checks and other programs cannot be sustained, and if the shutdown were continued it wouldn’t be long before the economy was irreparably damaged. These are unknown waters that our country has been thrown in; there are no operator’s manual on pandemics, at least not yet. So . . . what should we be doing as we continue down this long road back to normalcy.

We all should know by heart the pandemic safety mantra, wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands often. This still applies and is even more important as things begin to open up and some of those around us have let their guard down and aren’t practicing these safety measures. As things open up we might be asking ourselves, “what is safe to do? are some things safer than others?” The Texas Medical Association ranked nearly every activity—from opening your mail to going to a bar—by their risk level. In their calculations they assumed that everyone was following the three safety measures listed above. Click here to see the chart. As you can see, gathering indoors in large groups is the most unsafe activity, and anything outdoors is much safer. You might consider small outdoor gatherings for you and your family, still following the safety rules, as a way to finally see loved ones. One of the first activities to reopen was golfing. I know personally that being able to go out and golf saved my sanity. Hopefully, the low risk things on the chart will offer us some small sense of normalcy.

 Finally, I want to remind everyone that keeping yourself healthy should be priority one. That means taking your medicine as instructed and seeing your doctor. The chart showed the risk level of going to the doctor as a level four, relatively safe. Seeing your doctor, when necessary, should not be postponed. Having said that, there are alternatives available that might accomplish the same thing as a doctor visit without leaving your home. Next time you need to talk to your doctor, ask about the possibility of a telehealth appointment. Many health processes can be done over the phone or through video conferencing. A few months ago, Zoom was what the grandkids did when they came to visit. Now, many of us found out it was a way we could see and talk to them while we are quarantining. Whatever you do, don’t miss seeing your doctor, either in person or on the phone or through video conferencing.

A lot is happening in our country. As you try to make sense of it all, don’t forget that your health is priority one. Keep healthy and stay safe.

Thair



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Our Government and the Pandemic

We’ve talked a lot about how the pandemic has affected us, mentally, physically and financially. In our recent Medicare Today/ Seniors Speak Out poll we saw that our healthcare providers had a favorable rating (54% said the healthcare providers performed better than expected) as opposed to the government where only 16% thought they performed betterthan expected. As many states are beginning to open up, I thought it would be beneficial to look at what our government has done so far and the affect it has had on us so far.

There’s been a lot of discussion as to whether the President handled the pandemic correctly or not. It continues to be difficult to separate the truth from the political rhetoric. Did he take the pandemic seriously at the beginning? Did we shut down too early or too late?  Did he take power away from the states or gave them too much power to decide how their state was going to react? It may take years to analyze what actually happened and which actions were right and which were wrong. What we can talk about is what affects the Federal and State policies concerning the COVID-19 pandemic had on older Americans.

Most of us got a stimulus and/or an unemployment check from the government. We hope that the small business loans and Paycheck Protection Program money will help those who were furloughed or laid off. It seemed that every discussion I had with other seniors at some point turned to how our kids’ and grandkids’ employment was affected. It seemed that the government was trying to keep our economy going until it could be opened up again. Finances remain at the top of every discussion concerning the pandemic, but it has also affected us in other ways.

As you might remember the shutdown caught many by surprise. Some seniors were caught on cruise ships and in foreign countries and in many instances had a very difficult time getting back home. Some states even had travel restrictions that hindered travel between certain states. Each state has responded differently as to when and for how long to institute the shutdown of commercial businesses. What this meant for many seniors was the separation from their loved ones and the disruption of their routines. I did notice something else, the further splintering of America. It seemed that rather than pulling together, we spent a great deal of time and effort pointing fingers. At a time when we should have been uniting against a common foe, the pandemic, we talked about who to blame for its spread and who to listen to. It seemed hard to know who to believe. It was very unsettling.

While each of our lives was affected in different ways I want to focus on two aspects of the pandemic that I think will have long term consequences if we don’t address them; the situation at long term care facilities and the ways our government entities communicate with us.

It was quickly ascertained that the people who were most vulnerable to dying from the virus were people over 65. This was due to the fact that this population had more of the other conditions that made them vulnerable, like lung problems, diabetes and other medical conditions that inhibited their bodies from fighting the virus. It should have been very evident that people over 65 and in close quarters at long term care facilities had more of a chance of catching the virus and having poor outcomes.

I think this was the time and place for the government to step in and get masks and other healthcare support to these people as quick as possible. The final statistics will reveal how many seniors died in long term care facilities. There were certainly some facilities that didn’t have a plan in place or didn’t react as they should. Since then state and federal governments have stepped in to assure better protections. When the pandemic is contained and we can reflect on what changes need to be made, the regulations and avenues of support available for long term care facilities in times of crisis need to be reviewed and strengthened.

Our access to information has exploded over the last few years. More seniors found out how to use Zoom in the last few months than anyone could have ever predicted. We had access 24 hours a day to the 15-minute news cycle which, you’d think, would have kept us informed and reassured. Instead we began to distrust institutions that we used to have confidence in. There was misinformation disseminated by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the WHO (World Health Organization) has become suspect due to the influence of China in its pandemic recommendations. Dr. Fauci, an expert at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) since 1984, garnered some trust in the daily briefings that were aired on TV, but he was often contradicted by the administration. The result is we had all this information and didn’t have any trust that it was accurate. One of the basic duties of government is to offer reassurance in times of crisis. In my estimation, we didn’t have this reassurance at a time when we needed it most. For seniors, trapped in their homes without close personal contact with their loved ones, this was unsettling. Why is it that more Americans trust the Joe Rogan podcast more than the CDC, the government agency that is supposedly the most informed about pandemics? The pandemic has exposed a vacuum in trust that supersedes this health emergency and may prove to be the biggest problem our nation will face once the pandemic is over.

Our government shouldn’t be responsible for rescuing us from every problem. Our government should be the rallying voice and our most trusted supporter that helps us rescue ourselves. Whether it’s ensuring that long term care facilities are able to effectively take care of those that are the most frail or being a trusted source of accurate information to help us make informed decisions about our lives, the government of the United States of America must somehow regain our trust. This pandemic will have profound impacts on our lives for years to come. I wish I had all the answers to the problems that this pandemic exposed. What I do know is that we will get through this. We are a great country and we have the ability to fix our problems. In the meantime, stay safe and have joy.



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June 13th, National Family Health and Fitness Day

Today is Family Health and Fitness Day and it’s a great time to refocus on the things that keeps us healthy. Since early March we have done nothing but try to keep from getting the coronavirus. We’ve stayed sequestered, we’ve worn masks, we’ve avoided some of the things that give us the most joy, like hugging and visiting with our grand kids. We’ve been extra careful because we know that we are in the most vulnerable age group, those of us that are over 65. This focus on avoiding the coronavirus may have caused us to quit doing the things that have helped us stay physically and mentally healthy, like going to a health club to exercise, going swimming, or walking without friends. The virus made doing these things unsafe and, even though many places in America are opening up, we should stay vigilant. We remain at risk and should remain careful.  There are, however, some things we can do that are safe but will improve our health and fitness.

 In past Family Health and Fitness Days, seniors were encouraged to walk with friends, attend a fitness class, go dancing, have a health screening with your doctor or volunteer. These were all great ways to get healthy and fit but what do we do now when we are trying to stay safe?

Here are some things that we can do that will keep us safe but will increase our health and keep us fit.

  • Going outside and walking is still safe, as long as you stay 6 feet away from everyone. The virus has a much less chance of reaching you when you’re outside. Keep a mask with you in case you meet someone that you want to stop and talk with.
  • Find a yoga or exercise class on-line and make it a part of your daily routine. There are even some exercise classes on the tv that you can tune into.
  • Team up with one of your friends and act as each other’s enforcer to ensure that you stay with your daily exercise routine. It helps you stay on your plan when you know you have to “report” to your friend on your progress.
  • You can still volunteer by calling someone who needs to hear your voice. Encourage someone who is down. Order a gift for someone online and have it delivered to their house as a surprise. Doing something for someone else helps us forget our own troubles.
  • Don’t forget to keep seeing the doctor as required. While this might not be the time for a wellness visit or for some elective procedures, it is important to see your doctor for new or long-term health problems. Your doctor has done everything possible to maintain a germ-free environment and will advise you if keeping an appointment is not necessary. Don’t hesitate to use the telephone or have virtual meetings with your healthcare provider. Medicare and other insurance companies have stated that they will cover telehealth appointments.

These are just a few ways to return our focus to our long-term health and fitness. It’s so uplifting to see things begin to open up. While we still need to be careful, we can be happy that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The scientists are working hard to find medicines that can lesson or stop the effects of the drug and develop a vaccine that will protect us in the future. In the meantime, stay safe, keep yourself healthy and fit and stay joyful.



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Your Answers to Our COVID-19 Poll

We did a poll concerning the COVID-19 pandemic to give you an opportunity to tell us how this worldwide virus has impacted you. Your answers revealed some interesting information on how older Americans are weathering this unprecedented health emergency.

The first question was:

Concerning the impact of COVID-19 on your physical health – check all that apply.

Below are the choices and the percentage each choice was selected:

  • Has it been more difficult to get your medicine? 27.1%
  • Is it harder to see a doctor? 39.6%
  • Have you had trouble receiving home health? 8.3%
  • Other 25%

As you can see the response selected more often was the difficulty in seeing your doctor. You can understand that the fear of going out to a doctor’s appointment, especially for non-emergency issues, kept many people from venturing out to the doctor’s office. I wonder how many cancer screenings, colonoscopies, blood tests, physicals, etc. were missed and what price seniors will pay for this inability to get both preventative care as well as needed periodic care for existing conditions. I’m afraid that the effects of the pandemic on the health of seniors will be long term and costly.

The second most selected choice was difficulty in getting medicine. One of the fears providers had, with the strict quarantining recommendations, especially for older people, was – it would hinder seniors from getting their prescription medications. It was also worrisome that the supply chain for medications would be interrupted causing shortages. The quick response to expand the number of pills per prescription, the reduction or elimination of out-of-pocket costs and the ingenuity in maintaining adequate supplies all helped to ensure we were able to continue to get our needed prescriptions.

The third most selected choice was “other”. This pandemic affected each of us in a very personal way. We all are different and it affected us in different ways but there is no doubt it is affecting us all significantly.

Only 8.3% said it was difficult getting home health care. I hope this continues to be the case.

The second question was:

Concerning the impact of COVID-19 on your emotional health – What worries you the most?

Below are the choices and the percentage each choice was selected:

Becoming sick with COVID-19 21.6%

Your family members becoming ill with COVID-19 27%

Loss of retirement 5.4%

Loneliness 5.4%

Family members losing employment 18.9%

Access to healthcare 13.5%

Other 8.1%

The top two choices were fear of you or your family getting sick with the virus. As it seems is always the case we had more fear that one of our family members would get the virus rather than ourselves. That was also the case with worrying about our retirement or our family’s employment. We were much more worried about our family losing employment than we were about losing our retirement. It is interesting that only 5.4% chose loneliness as a problem. I think we might be seeing the reduction in restrictions as a light at the end of the tunnel and seeing hope that we can visit our families. It might also be that technology has helped. There our substantially more older Americans that know how to use Zoom than before the pandemic.

The third question was:

Who do you turn to for reliable COVID-19 information?

Below are the choices and the percentage each choice was selected:

TV news 24.3%

The daily Coronavirus Task Force briefings 27%

Internet 21.6%

Radio 2.7%

Newspaper 2.7%

Other 21.6%

The daily Coronavirus Task Force briefings was the top choice. I know I appreciated hearing Dr. Fauci’s insights and developed a trust for his opinions. We still go to the TV for our news and the daily briefing, the TV is our window on the world. The internet is moving up the ranks and the distinction between the “TV” and the “internet” is blurring. We are nearing the world where our internet is the conduit to news, radio, newspaper and any other information we seek. I do wonder where the 21.6% who selected other got their information? I suspect it is friends or family who visit with us and talk about the pandemic.

The fourth question asked:

In their response to COVID-19, do you think healthcare industries (hospitals, drug and device manufacturers, insurers) have:

The choices and the percentage selected are:

Performed better than expected 54.1%

Performed as expected 27%

Performed worse than expected 18.9%

It might have been a little difficult to evaluate the healthcare industries’ performance given none of us had ever experienced a pandemic like this. Given that, over half of us said they did better than expected and only 19% said they did worse than expected. I think three things impressed us:

  • the bravery of the healthcare workers as they exposed themselves to danger as they cared for us
  • the quick reaction of our insurance providers to cut our out-of-pocket expenses so that cost did not hinder our access to care and medicines (I just a received a card from my Medicare Advantage insurer that waived all out-of-pocket costs for primary care visits, outpatient behavioral health visits and telehealth visits)
  • The willingness of pharmaceutical manufacturers to band together and spend millions of dollars to look for medicines that will reduce the severity of the COVID-19 and to produce an effective vaccine.

Sometimes adversity brings out the best in us.

The final question asked:

In their response to COVID-19, do you think the federal government (Congress and the Administration) has:

The choices and the percentage selected are:

Performed better than expected 18.9%

Performed as expected 18.9%

Performed worse than expected 62.2%

It seems we don’t think our government responded very well to this pandemic.  We did have other countries’ response that we could use as we compared the effectiveness of our country’s response. There is still a lot we don’t know about what actually happened. Some countries that started out with lower infections were later inundated. State governors responded very differently and the resulting number of COVID-19 infections varied widely. As time goes on we’ll know more about what methods worked and what didn’t. We’ll also know what information our government had and when they had it and how they responded to it. But right now, there is no doubt that we aren’t happy with the government’s response.

We’re glad you chose to speak up and participate in our poll. We will continue to do surveys and polls to give you a chance to speak out. In the meantime, stay safe and have joy.

Thair



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What Healthcare Issues Do You Care About Most During COVID-19?

I hope this communication finds you safe and finding ways to have joy in these trying times. I have faith that we will emerge stronger and smarter from this experience.

First of all, I want to thank everyone who has participated in our survey and encourage anyone who hasn’t to click here and give us your input. The survey asks about your experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, your health, your healthcare, how the government and drug manufacturers have performed so far and how you get your information about the pandemic. It is important for you to speak out about these important health issues. Those in Washington, that have such an impact on our lives in these stressful times, need to know how you feel about these issues. Please participate.

Second, I want to talk about importation. This is an issue that I’ve talked about before. It has been trumpeted by Washington at different times over the years as a way to lower costs. The importation of prescription drugs has some basic flaws:

  • It lacks the basic safeguards to guarantee the safety of the medicine
  • The approach is resisted, or is outright rejected, by the very countries who would be counted on to support this approach
  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has calculated that importation would result in minimal savings, if any at all


I can’t help but think that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted another flaw, our reliance on other countries for our medicine. I’m not talking about the raw materials or manufacturing that are supplied or accomplished by foreign countries and certified by the FDA. I’m talking about legislation that circumnavigates these established, inspected and approved supply lines and opens up pathways for counterfeit drugs. We see today countries arguing about who would get COVID-19 vaccines or medicine first, deals being made between countries that might ignore the priority of getting medicines or vaccines to those who need it most. It highlights another reason that importation legislation is not the solution. When push comes to shove a foreign country’s priorities will come before ours and any agreement that is not based on economics and competition will be driven by political priorities that will not be to the safety and benefit of the patient.

As I have said before, as the elections get closer, the politicians will begin to focus on schemes to get elected. Importation may again be presented as a solution to drug prices. We all need to understand the real dangers of this flawed solution.

Stay safe and be joyful, Thair.



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Tele town hall

I want to thank everyone who joined our Seniors Speak Out tele town hall yesterday. We discussed the impact on senior’s healthcare that the COVID-19 pandemic has had, and could have, in the future. We also discussed what might happen with healthcare issues and legislation in this election year. I appreciated the questions, both written and expressed during the tele town hall. In response to one of the questions I am including the link to the IRS’ Get My Payment web site where you can check on the status of your stimulus check. Just click here to get to the site.

We also announced the broadening outreach of the new Seniors Speak Out. The use of polls and surveys, of webinars and tele town halls, and, when appropriate, visits to expos, seminars and anywhere mature Americans gather. Our goal is to find out how seniors truly feel about their healthcare and what their stance is on the issues that affect their lives. We are looking forward to this journey as we face this trying but important year.

Our first poll is ready on our web site – just click here to take the poll and participate in this process of speaking out.

I look forward to working with you as we seek to speak out and be heard.

Thair



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The COVID-19 Virus – Our Government’s Response

Here we are, hunkered down and wondering when, or if, we’ll be back to normal. It is a strange juxtaposition we are involved in . . . a national disaster that, in the past, has brought us together now forces us apart. I hate that we can’t gather our families together to weather this storm, but it is best, especially for us older folk, to stay isolated and wait for the “all clear” message. I’ve included some links below that will give you access to health and financial information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few updates on how our government is working to help out and guide us.

The 2 trillion-dollar stimulus legislation has been signed by the President. It contains a multitude of economic fixes. I will highlight a few of what is in the bill and a few things that were left out:

  • The bill allows us to have the medicine we need while we are quarantined (see my last blog) by allowing doctors to prescribe up to 90-day prescriptions without any restrictions by pharmacies or insurance providers.
  • The bill also includes provisions to expand telehealth, a great idea to get help from a health care provider without leaving the safety of your house.
  • Any costs related to getting tested for COVID-19 will be done with no costs to the patient.
  • We will be getting as much as $1,200 in a one-time check. It will be based on our 2018 Adjusted Gross Income. If you made too much money in 2018 your check could be reduced or eliminated.
  • Some changes affect your retirement funds. Talk to your financial advisor to see if any of the changes will help you.

One thing that wasn’t included in the bill was the ability to have some Medicare Part B drugs, primarily those that were injectable or infused, be provided in the home if the patient and physician think that’s the best option. It would have allowed much safer access to these life altering and life saving drugs. Many organizations fought for this change, but it wasn’t included. We hope that some later legislation will recognize the importance of this provision.

Another change that might help is the IRS has delayed when you need to file your 2019 taxes. Both the filing date and, more importantly, when any taxes you might owe are due has been extended to July 15th. Click on the IRS link below to get more information.

While the just passed legislation dealt with the immediate financial problems of those that were suddenly laid off and small and large businesses that were impacted by the pandemic, I want to remind our government that many seniors will also be affected financially. As we saw in the great recession, many older Americans found that they were the ones that rescued their children by letting them move back in with them or offering free childcare as their kids weathered the recession. We all know that we will do anything for our kids, but we’re older now and our retirement funds have been decimated. I’ll work to keep Washington apprised as this pandemic and its effects on the economy plays out, making sure they know how it affects the seniors in our country.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay involved, our country needs your steady spirit as we work to weather this storm.

Thair

HELPFUL LINKS

SENIORS

The CDC has guidance for older Americans on COVID-19 which can be found here.

For questions about receiving Social Security benefits during the COVID-19 national emergency, visit the SSA’s updates and frequently asked questions page here. If you need to get in touch with your local Social Security Office, use the office locator here to find their phone number.

Mental Health and Other Wellness Resources

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a resource guide on dealing with anxiety related to COVID-19 and some frequently asked questions, which can be found here.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free, confidential, and available 24/7 at 800-273-8255.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has resources and recommendations for staying safe during COVID-19, which can be found here. If you or a friend needs help, call the hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

VETERANS

Updated information on COVID-19 from the Department of Veterans Affairs can be found here.

What should veterans do if they think they have COVID-19?

Before visiting local VA medical facilities, community providers, urgent care centers, or emergency departments in their communities, veterans experiencing COVID-19 symptoms—such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath—are encouraged to call their VA medical facility or call MyVA311 (844-698-2311, press #3 to be connected). Veterans can also send secure messages to their health care providers via MyhealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal. VA clinicians will evaluate veterans’ symptoms and direct them to the most appropriate providers for further evaluation and treatment. This may include referral to state or local health departments for COVID-19 testing.

What about routine appointments and previously scheduled procedures?

VA is encouraging all veterans to call their VA facility before seeking any care—even previously scheduled medical visits, mental health appointments, or surgical procedures. Veterans can also send secure messages to their health care providers via MyhealtheVet and find out whether they should still come in for their scheduled appointments. VA providers may arrange to convert appointments to video visits, where possible.

Can visitors still access VA medical facilities?

Many VA medical facilities have cancelled public events for the time being, and VA is urging all visitors who do not feel well to postpone their visits to local VA medical facilities. Facilities have also been directed to limit the number of entrances through which visitors can enter. Upon arrival, all patients, visitors, and employees will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and possible exposure.

IRS

The IRS has established an updated resource section on steps to help taxpayers, businesses, and others affected by the coronavirus, which can be found here.