Share this post:

Open Enrollment – A Time for You to Take Control of Your Medicare Insurance

Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage health insurance and Medicare prescription drug plans started on October 15th and goes to December 7th. You no doubt have been receiving mail, phone calls and emails telling you it’s time to review your plan, or, if you’re just turning 65 to register for Medicare. If you’re like me, you’re pretty wary of all of these different companies offering free information and help with your review. You understand that in the end most of them want to sell you something. While this isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, their focus may not always be to offer you the best health services that match your individual situation at the lowest cost. I say this because I want to be up front with what my motivations are.

I’m paid by the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC), a Washington based nonprofit made up of a coalition of chief executives from all disciplines within American healthcare. As the spokesperson for Seniors Speak Out, I try to advocate and educate for older Americans. The broad scope of the HLC membership dictates that I cannot, and I really don’t want to, recommend or advise on which Medicare Advantage insurance plan, Medicare Supplemental insurance plan or prescription drug plan is best. My only motivation in discussing open enrollment is to try and offer basic information that will lead you to accurately review your coverage and get the plan that fits you the best at the best price. One way I hope to accomplish that goal is through a virtual town hall on November 17th at 2PM ET that will offer answers to the most common questions that are asked during open enrollment and also give you a chance to ask any questions that you may have. You can register for the virtual town hall here.

In the meantime, I would like to offer some suggestions as you get ready to review your Medicare coverage.

  • Take a moment to review your health and the direction it is going. When you’re older the one thing to count on is an increase in health problems. Discoveries in healthcare have enabled us to have healthier lives for longer than ever before, but time will catch up to all of us. Your evaluation of this year’s healthcare needs and your estimate of what next year will bring could have a big impact on which plan is right for you. Be as detailed as you can.
  • Write down all of the prescription drugs you take, the name, the dosage, and the manufacturer. Write down any over the counter drugs, including vitamins and nutritional supplements you take. Keep this information up to date, not only for open enrollment but also for your doctor visits.
  • Review your “2022 Medicare & You Handbook.” You can get a copy by logging into (or creating) your secure Medicare account.
  • You can always get help at www.shiphelp.org, the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs. These are local trained assistants who can give you invaluable help.

Reviewing your health plans during this open enrollment period can potentially save you money.

I know that there have been many discussions about Medicare and proposed changes. Don’t let this rhetoric cause you to miss the chance to take charge of your Medicare and review your coverage and change plans if that’s what’s right for you. There’s been no legislative changes to Medicare so there is no reason to delay your coverage review.

Please don’t forget to look for signup information for our November 17th town hall.

Best, Thair



Share this post:

Fall is Here – It’s Time for Family and Staying Healthy

When the air gets crisp, and the days get shorter we know it’s time to start looking toward the holidays and great times with our families. It’s also time to sharpen our focus on our health. First, let’s think about the approaching holidays.

Out west, for whatever reason, Halloween is a big deal. There are houses with elaborate decorations, huge haunted houses and corn mazes. I don’t know how it is where you live but it seems to get crazier every year. After Halloween the focus turns to Thanksgiving and big family dinners. We can’t always control the menu when we go to dinner at our family’s or friend’s house, but we can eat healthy this fall when we are cooking for ourselves. The National Institute on Aging, an institute and center under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a great web page that offers recipes for one day or for a week’s worth of healthy meals. I think it’s worth trying to see how you feel after eating healthy for a week. I know as my schedule gets hectic, I find myself eating a lot of fast food, both outside my home and inside. How many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have you eaten when you didn’t think you had time to fix something nutritious. I know that if I’ve planned a week’s worth of meals, I’m more inclined to stick to the plan. Take a look at the web page – you might find yourself clicking on some of the links that talk about other healthy ideas, like lowering your blood pressure, menus to lose weight, and even a sample shopping list; it’s well worth your time.

I found another really good web page on Delish.com that is loaded with great recipes that are quick and easy. You need to be careful to choose the healthy ones, but it’s almost always better to cook at home with your ingredients than to go out to eat. This web page offers over 60 easy recipes.

If you want to go crazy here is a web page with over 2,000 fall recipes. Don’t say I didn’t give you many options. Everyone ought to be able to find something they like on one of these sites.

Now that your mouth is watering thinking about all that good fall food you’re going to be eating, let’s talk about how to stay healthy, both mentally and physically, this fall. There are some problems that come with the fall. The days get shorter, the cold sometimes keeps us from venturing out, some of us may not have family that is close. For some, the holidays can be gloomy. There are some things we can do. At Activeminds.org they offered 15 things you can do to make your autumn a safe and healthy time. Here they are:

1) Start taking a Vitamin D supplement. We get most of our Vitamin D from the sun, so our intake decreases when the weather is colder since we spend most of our time inside during the fall/winter seasons. If you find you are not getting outside much, a Vitamin D supplement can boost your mood and immune system!

2) Take some time to yourself. Autumn and winter are the Earth’s way of telling us to slow down. Start a journal or track your moods to get more in touch with how you’re feeling.

3) Get your flu shot and yearly check-up. Self-explanatory! No one likes sniffling and aching and sneezing and coughing getting in the way of life. Yuck.

4) Boost your immune system. You can do this by drinking plenty of water, washing your hands often to prevent sickness, and eating nutritious foods.

5) Get yourself ready for Daylight Saving Time. Go to bed earlier when you can, especially the week before the clocks change. Longer periods of darkness = longer periods of sleep!

6) Make some plans for the cold months. In the winter, we tend to hibernate if we don’t have things to keep us busy.

7) Moisturize your skin. Harsh temperatures can make your skin dry. Also, you still should be wearing sunscreen.

8) Buy in-season food. Beets, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, kale, pumpkin, broths, roasted squash, roots, and sautéed dark leafy greens are all great choices.

9) Stay active! It can be easy to just sit around all the time, but it’s important to get in some movement throughout the day. Raking leaves or shoveling snow counts!

10) Wear layers and protect your body from the dropping temperature. Make sure you have gloves, a scarf, earmuffs, a winter coat, warm socks, and snow boots!

11) Do some “spring cleaning” in the fall. Clean out your closet, organize that back room, and rid yourself of things you don’t need.

12) Prepare your home for possible extreme weather conditions. Do you have a shovel and/or snow blower? Do your flashlights have batteries? Is your heat working okay?

13) Get some books to read and shows to watch. Who doesn’t want to sit by the fire on chilly winter nights and read a good book or binge-watch some Netflix?

14) Keep a schedule. The cold months can seem to drag on and push us into isolation. Stay on track by scheduling time in your day to do things you like to do.

15) Be kind to yourself. The holidays can cause weight gain, the shorter days can cause low mood, and the flu season can cause sickness. Listen to your body and give it what it needs, and don’t beat yourself up! Try reframing negative thoughts into positive ones.

These are all excellent points. They made me stop and think about how these months have affected me in the past and made me consider what I could do to have a happier, healthier fall.

One last thing, some of us are eligible now for COVID-19 booster shots, I was eligible and got my booster last week. Many more of us will probably be eligible in a few weeks. There’s been a lot of talk about people feeling guilty about getting boosters when poorer countries haven’t had very many vaccinated with the first shots. Many manufacturers and our government are working to get the vaccines to these poorer countries because it is important to get the whole world vaccinated, but the available vaccines that have already been distributed around the United States cannot be shipped overseas. We shouldn’t feel guilty about using these vaccines. It has been shown that our immunity drops after a few months, especially to the Delta variant. These COVID-19 booster shots will raise our immunity and continue to protect us. Go get your booster! Oh, and while you’re at it, get your flu shot also. I did, I got the COVID-19 booster in my right arm and the flu shot in the left. Made me feel like I was back in the Air Force.

Do everything you can to stay healthy and happy this fall – you deserve it.

Best, Thair



Share this post:

Bone and Joint Week – A Chance to Improve Your Life

This week is Bone and Joint Week which is a chance to focus on the health of our bones and our joints and, which may come as a disappointment to some, has nothing to do with marijuana. Bone health has much to do with our whole body’s health and is especially important as we grow older.

How many times have we heard, “So and so fell and broke her hip and died a few days/weeks later?” It seems to be a common series of events and was made much more personal to me a few years ago. When my mother-in-law, Ada, was in her late 90s her healthcare nurse visited her and pled with her to use her cane or walker as she moved around. Ada had become somewhat unsteady, and her bone density was poor. Ada, who always had her own mind and was also very honest, told the nurse that she appreciated her advice but that she probably wouldn’t use either the cane or the walker. The nurse later took my wife aside and told her that Ada could fall, break her hip, and it would be the death of her. She told my wife to not blame herself or others who took care of Ada because people have their freedom and Ada was exercising hers. Ada had a huge 100th birthday party and a few months later she fell, broke her hip, and died 3 days later, with her daughter at her side.

I tell this story to highlight a couple of things. First, in these days of battles over mandates and freedom of choice, it is difficult to know where to draw the line between preserving your rights while protecting those around us. My wife tried to help her mother but, in the end, it was her mother’s decision to venture out without her cane or walker. Second, it is amazing how impactful a broken bone can be on older people. The nurse, no doubt, had seen this scenario play out many times to allow her to make her prediction. It’s up to us to not become another participant in this common scenario.

As I did research, I was surprised that you didn’t have to be 100 to have weakened bones. In fact, as the chart below shows, you lose the most bone density between ages 35 and 60. Women are especially at risk for bone loss. This means you need to tell your children that they can impact their bone health before they get old, like us.

The good news is there are things we can do to help our bone health even when we are older. The first thing we can do is take this short survey that will help determine our risk level for osteoporosis. We also should talk to our doctors about our bone health. She/he may recommend that you have a bone density test to determine the status of your bones. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that all women over 65 should have this test.

There is an excellent link on the NIH website that references the Surgeon General’s report on bone health. The report covers all ages and, while it enables us to offer suggestions on bone health to our children and grandchildren, it has some great information on things we can do, even at our advanced age, to protect our bones.

My hope is that we pay attention to the information available and make some changes to our lifestyle to improve our bone health. There are some things we can do so that we don’t follow the scenario that the nurse predicted and ultimately came to fruition for Ada. We do have the power to not become part of the pattern.

Best, Thair



Share this post:

Drug Pricing – The Big Picture and a Call to Action!

Drug prices have been a favorite discussion item of politicians for years, but never more than this year. There has been a myriad of solutions offered, from small tweaks to a complete replacement of Part D, Medicare’s prescription drug program. You’ve probably wondered if I was ever going to quit talking about these varied proposals but in order to speak out, we must understand the impact these proposals will have on each of us and when the votes on these proposals will take place. We need to take action before the votes are counted and there is a good chance that in the next few weeks, either the infrastructure bill or the big reconciliation bill will be discussed in committees or on the floor of the House and the Senate with votes to follow. Either one of these bills could, and probably will, have healthcare components and specifically drug pricing proposals. The time for action is now!

Let’s take a quick look at the most important changes to Part D that have been proposed, first the ones that historically have had some bipartisan support.

  • Price transparency – Unmask some of the prices and costs in the drug business process to encourage competition.
  • Balance copay costs – This change would let Medicare enrollees spread out their copays in monthly installments so they wouldn’t be faced with the entire yearly cost in the first few months.
  • A cap on prescription drug out-of-pocket costs – This change would put a beneficiary cap on the yearly out-of-pocket cost for the Medicare prescription benefit, Part D.
  • Telehealth – Expand payments and eligibility for telehealth services.

As you might imagine I think some of these proposed changes are needed, they increase competition, make it easier to pay copays, finally put a cap on yearly out-of-pocket costs, and add a cost-effective healthcare option. These are the type of changes where the government can help make a program efficient without ruining the competition inherent in the public/private partnership that is the basis of Medicare Part D.

 
Other proposals:

  • Drug importation – Allow states to import drugs from foreign countries, primarily Canada.
  • Drug negotiations – This would allow the government to essentially set drug prices.
  • Limit drug prices – Base drug prices on those of a select group of foreign countries.
  • Limit existing drug price increases – Using the Consumer Price Index (the CPI, an inflation indicator), the government will limit the amount certain drug prices could be increased.
  • Expand Medicare eligibility – Possibly lower the eligibility age to 60.
  • Expand Medicare benefits – Add dental, hearing and vision coverage.
  • Change the prescription drug rebate process – Push rebate savings to the patient at the pharmacy counter.
  • Change Part D to operate like the VA drug programs functions – This is a very recent approach that just came up. It would mimic the government-run VA drug program which has about half of Part D’s formulary and sets price discounts.

The bulk of these proposed changes reflect an approach where the government dictates prices and inserts itself into the very core of the whole process. This is where I want to step back and talk about the big picture.

Part D is successful because it lets the free market work within a framework of government oversight . . . the public/private partnership. You have declared yourself how well this partnership works in the recent Part D satisfaction survey we took. When government inserts itself into these complicated programs, politics is the focus and efficiency suffers. A case in point.

When America, and the whole world, needed a vaccine to combat COVID-19 they needed it fast, not in the historical years it takes to bring a drug to market, but in less than a year. The government opened the purse strings and offered to fund this impossible task. Pfizer turned down this offer; they turned it down because they knew that accepting government money would slow down the process. It’s no secret that they stood to make a sizable profit if they were successful, but there was no guarantee of success when they took on the challenge. Pfizer was able to move quickly and was the first to give the world a vaccine that has proven to be very effective. My point here is government in inherently inefficient.

We need to step back and look at each of the proposed changes to Part D and ask ourselves, do we want more government involvement? Is government price fixing the path we want to head down? Do we want our government to control access and the options available in our healthcare? These are the questions we need to ask.

Now is the time to act. Click here to find out how to contact your Senators and Representative. Take the opportunity to make your voice heard. Tell them that Part D works for you, and you don’t want more government intrusion into this successful program. Tell them there are ways to increase the efficiencies of the program without destroying the competition and private part of the partnership. Your voice matters and we need to act now. Take the time to speak out.

Best, Thair



Share this post:

World Heart Day – Find Out How to Improve Your Heart Health

This Wednesday, September 29th, Is World Heart Day, a day created by the World Heart Federation to find ways to fight the CVD (cardiovascular disease) that kills 18.6 million people per year. The Federation says that 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be prevented. It seems to me we could add a lot of time spent with our families if we could prevent 80% of premature deaths.

As we get older our bodies age differently, but the fact of the matter is, every body part becomes less efficient as we grow older. None of us escapes the deterioration of time. For example, I just returned from a week spent with my Air Force friends. We have been getting together every two years for over 40 years. As you might imagine when we first flew together, as B-52 crew members, we were in good physical condition. Over the years we all have developed different maladies that have caused us problems and made us slow down. Last week we met in Colorado and took one day to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park. We drove on the winding road higher and higher into the Rockies until we stopped at the visitor center that happened to be at 11,796 feet above sea level. As we walked around at that altitude, we all felt the effects of the thin air but some of us felt it more than others. I’m sure the condition of our heart had something to do with our fatigue and shortness of breath at that altitude. There is no doubt that myself and my fellow Air Force brothers could improve our heart health if we would follow the heart hints published by the Heart Federation.

The Federation identifies 4 areas where we could improve our heart health

  • Diabetes – People living with diabetes are twice as likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease.
  • Physical Inactivity – Around 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week reduces the risk of heart disease by 30% and the risk of diabetes by 27%.
  • Cholesterol – Raised Cholesterol is estimated to cause 2.6 million deaths and is implicated in heart diseases and stroke.
  • Tobacco – Globally, tobacco causes some 6 million deaths a year and poses a major risk for developing heart disease—it is also a highly preventable risk. Around 1.2 million deaths are due to exposure to second-hand smoke.

While we probably all know someone who has suffered some of the common heart problems, like clogged arteries or leaky valves. There are medicines and surgeries that can help with those problems. There are, however, rare heart problems that we may not know about and may be hard to diagnosis. Click here to read more about these rare heart diseases.

I think the leaflet that the Federation has developed gives us some concise information about improving our heart health and some excellent resources for educating those around us about heart health. I lost my brother to a sudden and instantly fatal heart attack. I’ve always wondered if there were some warning signs that I missed or some things he could have done to prevent his untimely death.

I recently went through a battery of cardiovascular tests, including a stress test, and it has given me a sense of relief that my heart is in good condition. If I pay attention to the guidance put forth by the World Heart Federation, I should be able to continue having good heart health. I urge all of you to take some time on World Heart Day to find out how you can improve your heart health.

Best, Thair



Share this post:

Town Hall Recap – 2021 Medicare Part D Satisfaction Survey

On Wednesday, September 15 we held a virtual town hall to review our yearly Part D Satisfaction Survey. We have been doing this survey for 14 years to give seniors across our nation the opportunity to tell us how they feel about Medicare’s prescription drug program. This year, with all the discussion about changing Part D by those who say the program isn’t working, it is especially important to skip over all of the rhetoric and let you, the beneficiary, tell us how you feel about Part D.

You can click here to see the 30-minute video of the virtual town hall. My goal in this blog is to give you the Reader’s Digest version of the Town Hall.

I started off the town hall by giving a short history of the birth of Part D and its subsequent performance. Part D passed Congress by a narrow margin in 2003 after much debate. The debate ranged from creating a single payer government run program, similar to the VA program, to setting up a voucher driven system where patients would use a voucher to buy a prescription drug plan in the commercial marketplace. A public/private partnership was the final program design. When the bill was being debated, the naysayers conjectured that:

  • There wouldn’t be enough competition and choices, especially in the rural areas.
  • Overall plan premiums would increase dramatically.
  • Seniors wouldn’t be able to wade through the complicated sign-up process or the yearly open enrollment.

Part D has proven these predictions to be wrong, today:

  • Montana, a very rural state, has 23 Part D plans to choose from.
  • Premiums have grown slower than the consumer price index; Part D costs are 40% less than predicted.
  • State and local “navigators” helped with initial sign-up and a continually improved website helps with the yearly enrollment.

Not many government programs have been this successful. 1 in 3 Medicare eligible veterans, who have their own prescription drug program, have chosen to sign-up for Part D. The Medicare Prescription Drug program has proven, over the last 15 years, to be very successful.

After my walk down memory lane I turned the time over to Caroline Bye, an Associate Vice President for Morning Consult, to go over the survey offering insights into the survey itself. Caroline leads survey research, advocacy and messaging strategy for multinational nonprofits, advocacy groups, and higher education institutions at Morning Consult.

Caroline began by explaining that the survey was limited to people 65 and over and had prescription coverage through Medicare Part D. The slide below details the three key findings from the survey. You can see Caroline’s entire slide deck here.

The first survey question was how seniors felt about their overall Medicare healthcare coverage. The satisfaction level again this year stayed above 90%. The next question asked the important question of how they felt about Medicare’s prescription drug program. As you can see in the graph below, the satisfaction level stayed strong at 87%. Caroline pointed out that this level of satisfaction was consistent across demographics, race, sex, party affiliation, etc. It is also interesting to note that those who are taking one or more prescription drugs had a higher satisfaction level than those who were not taking any prescriptions.

The survey revealed that over 90% of the seniors feel very fortunate to have a prescription drug program. The next questions were more detailed asking if they felt the program was convenient to use, the copays and/or coinsurance amounts on generic medicines were affordable, the monthly premium was affordable, and whether the plan works well and without hassle. The results were 91%, 86%, 84%, and 86% respectively.

Seniors, to the tune of 83%, thought it was important to have a variety of prescription plans to choose from, while 2/3 of the respondents strongly agree that their out-of-pocket costs would be higher without Medicare Part D. It is also important to note that 62% of seniors said their drug costs had not changed or had gone down over the last year. It’s not surprising that 90% of seniors would recommend Part D to their friends.

The survey asked some questions concerning policy proposals that have been put forth. Respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with these proposed changes from 0 to 10 with 0 being not at all supportive. The graph below shows the percentage of people that gave the proposal the very low score of 0 or 1. In other words, the number shown is the percentage of respondents who did not want that proposed change implemented.

Remember, these are the percentage of people who gave these proposed changes a 0 to 1 score. There could have been many scores of 5 or lower. It is evident that when the proposed changes included increasing the federal government’s involvement or the possible result of these proposed changes were identified, the proposed changes weren’t as popular as some would have you believe.

The survey then asked the respondents to choose which of the following statements is closer to their own opinion, even if neither is exactly right?

  1. We should keep the current Medicare law so that the government is prohibited from deciding which drugs are available to seniors and people with disabilities, even if that means the cost of some medicines might not go down.
  2. We need to reform the current Medicare law so that the government can negotiate costs with drug companies, even if that means the government will decide which drugs are available to seniors and people with disabilities.

50% chose number 1, keep the current law, while 30% chose number 2, change the current law with 19% having no opinion. That’s a pretty positive vote for keeping the current law.

It is interesting to show the above results broken out in different demographics, as shown in the chart below. As you might guess, Republicans are more likely to want to keep the current law 65% to 19% against keeping the law than Democrats. But, even among the Democrats, 40% still want to keep the current law as opposed to the 39% that want to change.  

The final question presented a list of proposed changes and asked seniors how concerned they were with each change. Out of the 8 proposed changes, over 80% of the people were concerned with 6 of the changes with last two showing 76% and 61% of the people were concerned. Again, a vast majority of seniors are concerned with changing Part D.

Caroline turned the town hall over to Mary R. Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, for her comments. Mary put the survey results into context of the present political environment. She pointed out that some in Congress want to move away from the fundamental design of Part D. She wondered if any of the members of Congress, who are proposing these changes, ever stopped to ask America’s seniors what they wanted? The survey showed that there is really no clamor for change among America’s seniors. Mary pointed out that the average Part D premium has stayed between $30 and $35 dollars for several years. Mary summarized her comments with the question, “if Part D is affordable and seniors are satisfied with it, what is the compelling reason for radical change”?

The town hall was then opened up for questions. The first question for Mary asked if she thought there were improvements in Part D that should be considered. Mary replied that there certainly were changes that would improve the program. She said that the proposal to limit out-of-pocket costs was a needed improvement. She also said that value-based negotiations between drug manufacturers and providers would be an ideal direction to take.

The next question was to Caroline asking how the satisfaction numbers compared year over year. She said that year-over-year the general satisfaction has remained very high.

The next question asked why we were seeing these calls for extreme changes in Part D?  Mary thought that the changes were based on a few medicines and anecdotal instances, rather than relying on a broad fact-based experience. The current method of negotiations has resulted in stable, affordable prices.

The next question asked what aspect of this survey jumped out as notable? Caroline indicated that in her work with big companies she has seen surveys that had high satisfaction ratings, like this one, but the willingness of seniors to promote and recommend Part D was unique. Mary indicated that she was impressed with the number of self-identified Democrats who didn’t want to change Part D. I interjected that the slightly lower numbers from last year reflect the white noise and rhetoric that is coming out of Washington, which seeks to confuse seniors. The survey shows that when seniors sit back and ask how Part D performs for them, they are really satisfied. While there are changes that can and should be made, seniors don’t want to make radical changes.

We encourage you to look at the slides that were presented. They are available here or you can watch the entire town hall here.

Best, Thair



Share this post:

COVID Update – It Is a Life-or-Death Choice

As I looked forward to September, I thought this would be a good time to give an update on where we are in the quest to finally defeat this terrible pandemic. In the last few weeks, it has become abundantly clear that using the word defeat, at least in the short term, is not appropriate. The Delta variant has pushed many communities back into those critical times we experienced in the past when hospitals and caregivers were overwhelmed. There are, however, some big differences with this wave of COVID-19 infections.

The vast majority of new COVID infections are among the unvaccinated. According to MIT Medical you have a .0008 percent of dying from COVID-19 if you are vaccinated. The New York Times stated that vaccinated people take about the same risk with COVID-19 as they do when they venture out in their car. Getting vaccinated can certainly save your life. Also, there is a difference in the age of those getting sick. The age of those getting seriously ill from getting infected has dropped considerably, with children being much more vulnerable than they were early on in the pandemic. These differences have raised some important considerations.

According to most doctors and scientists, if the vast majority (over 80%) of the citizens of the U.S. would have rushed out and been vaccinated, the impact of the Delta variant would have been a fraction of its present infections. The increased infection rate has also raised the fear that the number of unvaccinated people getting infected will increase the chance of another mutation and possibly an even more dangerous variant. The obvious answer to these problems is for everyone to relent and go get vaccinated.

Some institutions, both private and public, have mandated that participants must be vaccinated. Many companies have declared that employees be vaccinated or have weekly COVID-19 tests. Many colleges have said that students must be vaccinated to attend class. Even some concert venues have required proof of vaccination to attend. President Biden, last week, announced some broad vaccination mandates in his effort to raise the percentage of vaccinated citizens. These mandates have triggered a considerable amount of push back from people who say that these mandates threaten their freedom of choice, and some say they go against the guaranteed freedoms in the U.S. Constitution. These mandates may have even threatened the progress they hoped to bolster. The chart below shows that after the final approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech the number of weekly vaccinations rose but in the last few weeks the number has dropped considerably.

These new developments have again served to divide us. Some say we should let the unvaccinated reap the results of their choice. This might be an easy out except for the fact that their choice is loading our healthcare system to the point that important surgeries and treatments for those who are vaccinated and uninfected are being delayed. Their choice also raises the possibility of the birth of a new variant that may threaten even those who are vaccinated. It is a complicated problem.

The real solution is clearly that we all need to get vaccinated. Almost 90% of those over 65 have been vaccinated and their infection rate is low. We have a fully approved vaccine and other emergency approved vaccines that have proven they can save lives. State governments have mandated that children must have certain vaccines to enter school for decades. These mandates have virtually eliminated some diseases and saved countless lives. Mandates are not a new thing. Now is not the time to suddenly push back against mandates and recommendations that can save lives. We need to appeal to those we know who haven’t been vaccinated that they should get vaccinated, if only to help their loved ones and friends. It is a choice that we all can live with.

Best, Thair

p.s. Don’t miss the chance to find out the results of the Medicare Part D survey by joining out virtual town hall. Register Here See details below.

Medicare Today Town Hall
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
2:00 p.m. ET
Guest Speakers
Thair Phillips
former President and CEO of RetireSafe
And
Caroline Bye
AVP of Advocacy and Government at Morning Consult
Register Here

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing
information on joining the Town Hall.

You can join on your computer without your camera or you can dial-in as
well – whatever works for you!



Share this post:

Healthy Aging Month – Are We Supposed to Act Our Age?

It’s September which means it’s Healthy Aging Month. Last year at this time I wrote a great blog about this important month, it was witty and informative (at least I thought it was) and you can read it by clicking here. The same ten helpful points in last year’s blog are still relevant and I hope they give you some food for thought. This year I will offer some new ideas and thoughts on aging that may give you a new perspective on how you see yourself as you get older.

Full disclosure, I turned 73 a week ago and I still wonder how that happened. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times, “I woke up one morning and I was old.” While we didn’t get old overnight, our realization of being old probably came when we were surprised by someone’s comment or on a particular birthday. Maybe it was when you were stopped by a police officer who looked as old as one of your kids, or you were surprised in the exam room by a Doogie Houser look alike who claimed to be a doctor? Any of these events may have caused you to reflect on your age. Rather than letting these events get you depressed, think of this – the fact that you were surprised at how old you suddenly became is a very positive thing. You should celebrate that you were surprised at your age, that in your mind you weren’t that old. We can’t let someone else tell us how old we are. We can’t let some event establish our age. It’s our mind and our own picture of ourselves that should guide our perception of our age.

Now I’m not trying to convince you that you should be doing the things you did when you were 30. There is no denying the aches and pains that come when you get older. What I am saying is . . . don’t let the aches and pains keep you from trying new things or finding ways to keep moving and pushing the envelope of your present physical abilities. For instance, I remember when I had to give up playing tennis. My knees and hips just didn’t allow the movement necessary to be competitive and have fun. Then along comes someone’s great idea of pickleball. Maybe you’ve heard of it; it’s a cross between ping pong, tennis, and badminton. It allows someone to be active and be competitive at a sport without requiring the running and movement required in tennis. My friend who’s a year older than I am plays it every day. It keeps him in great shape. He’s going to teach me how to play.

Find something that gets you out and moving; golf has done that for me. Golf often occupies my mind when I’m not actually playing it. I’m thinking of things I can try to improve my game. It’s my happy place where I go when things around me are trying to depress me. Find the activity that motivates you to do better and becomes your happy place.

My point here echoes the first point of my 10-point list from last year – don’t act your age. Much to many people’s amazement, older Americans were not the age group that suffered the most mental problems during the pandemic. Our age group bore the brunt of the deaths, yet, somehow, we held up and soldiered on. We are a strong group; we’ve done hard things during our lives, and we are still strong enough to do more hard things. Don’t let anyone or anything dictate how old you should act.

Best, Thair

p.s. Don’t miss the chance to find out the results of the Medicare Part D survey by joining out virtual town hall. See details below.

Medicare Today Town Hall
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
2:00 p.m. ET
Guest Speakers
Thair Phillips
former President and CEO of RetireSafe
And
Caroline Bye
AVP of Advocacy and Government at Morning Consult

They will discuss: The results of the annual Part D Satisfaction Survey
Register Here

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing
information on joining the Town Hall.

You can join on your computer without your camera or you can dial-in as
well – whatever works for you!



Share this post:

You Spoke! The 2021 Senior Satisfaction Survey

Once again, we gave seniors the opportunity to tell us how they feel about Medicare Part D, Medicare’s prescription drug program. This survey was the 15th year that we’ve asked seniors how the feel about Part D. We do this because it is important to break through all of the rhetoric and posturing that is taking place concerning this vital program. Many politicians think we need to change the program, dictate drug prices, set prices based on those in foreign countries, import drugs from other countries, etc. They are focused on “fixing” Medicare Part D when I’m not sure they have any idea whether those who use the program think it needs to be fixed. We do this survey each year because we want you to have a voice.

I may be revealing how old I am, but I was involved with senior organizations and public policy before Part D was passed in 2003 and implemented in 2006. I know that before Part D, when seniors were responsible for the full cost of their prescription drugs, the financial uncertainty of these costs was deeply troubling and was a constant worry. Most people don’t know that many in Washington were against the program as it was being debated. They thought that there wouldn’t be enough plans competing in each state, especially in rural states. They thought it would be too complicated for seniors to understand. They though that premiums would spiral out-of-control. They thought that seniors would be unhappy. It was a close vote, but it passed.

So, what has happened over the last 15 years? There are many Part D plans to choose from in each state. In Montana, one of our most rural states, there are 23 different plans. With the help of state aids, pharmacists, automation, information from HHS, and the resourcefulness and self-reliance of seniors, they continue to choose the plans that fit them best. The premiums have been 30% lower than were estimated during the debate 15 years ago. These are the indicators of a successful program and seniors have agreed since the program’s inception.

For instance, in 2007, 86% of the respondents said they were very positive or somewhat positive about Part D. In our 2021 survey 87% said they were satisfied with their Part D coverage. We asked a variety of questions in our survey, covering senior’s feelings about things like out-of-pocket costs and their opinions about the changes that are being proposed. There are a lot of interesting facts that have come out of this year’s survey, too many to go into here. Luckily, we have scheduled a virtual town hall on September 15th to discuss the survey in more detail. We hope you can join us. You can click here to register for the town hall. Detailed information about the town hall is below.

I always want you to be the voice I listen to. How well Medicare is serving you is what’s important. I think that sometimes those in Washington forget who eventually pays the bills and who the real customers are. Our yearly survey is one way we try to let you speak out. Join us on the 15th.

Thanks, Thair

Medicare Today Town Hall
Wednesday, September 15, 2021, 2:00 p.m. ET

Guest Speakers
Thair Phillips, former President and CEO of RetireSafe
And
Caroline Bye, AVP of Advocacy and Government at Morning Consult

They will discuss:
The results of the annual Part D Satisfaction Survey
Register Here

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing
information on joining the Town Hall. You can join on your computer without your camera and you can dial-in as well – whatever works for you!



Share this post:

Turbulent Times Ahead

As the summer draws to a close, the citizens of this great nation face a dangerous time, the return of the politicians to Washington after the August recess. All of those who represent us think that they must take action, fix something, change things. It never crosses their mind that leaving things that are working alone might be a valid approach. Medicare, especially Part D, the prescription drug benefit, is something that has been working better than expected. Over the years, it has enjoyed a continued vote of confidence from seniors (we’ll talk about the latest Part D satisfaction poll next month). Washington needs to consider the old adage, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” Nevertheless, there is a strong possibility that Congress and/or the President will be predisposed to making changes in Medicare and Part D.

There are two bills that will be at the top of the priority list when Congress returns, the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the 3.5 trillion dollar social policy bill that the Democrats can pass with a simple majority using budget rules. The infrastructure bill, as drafted, does not include substantive changes to Medicare. The bipartisan nature of the bill kept it focused on infrastructure issues. The other bill, often called the reconciliation bill, will most likely contain many proposed changes to Part D. The President has already given the Department of Health and Human Services and Congress some strong guidance on what he wants in the reconciliation bill. He said that he wanted three changes: the first two would allow the Government to set prices on prescription drugs – the so-called negotiation option and the ability to charge penalties if drug prices are raised higher than inflation. The third change would set a cap on the yearly out-of-pocket prescription drug charges for Medicare beneficiaries.

When anyone proposes changes to Part D I always look at how it affects the beneficiaries. . . how does it affect what I pay and my access to medications? There is no guarantee that having the government controlling drug prices will result in any savings for you and me. Drug manufacturers may make less and Medicare may pay less but the convoluted pricing and supply structure may limit any savings from getting down to the patient. The third proposed change, the out-of-pocket cap, is the only change that will benefit the patient. I’ve discussed how important this change would be for those who are saddled with unrestrained out-of-pocket costs. It would correct the problem of requiring the sickest amongst us to bear the burden of huge costs.

I expect there will be a huge amount of pressure to include changes to Medicare in the social policy bill. As you might expect, I have some thoughts that I hope Congress and the President would consider.

First, President Biden has already threatened to use Executive Orders (EO) to accomplish some of the proposed changes. It was wrong when President Trump did it and it’s wrong if President Biden does it. Presidential fiat is not the way we deserve to be governed. There are constitutional checks and balances that are the basis of how changes are made. Circumnavigating these checks and balances is not the way to make changes. These EOs are almost always subject to legal challenges. They are also subject to being rescinded by the next President, as President Biden has already done to some of President Trump’s EOs.

Second, it just doesn’t seem right to use money supposedly “saved” from Medicare costs to fund other initiatives. Medicare is not an ATM to be used to fund other parts of the government.

Third, the pandemic has caused a great deal of chaos in the supply chain for prescription drugs, coupled with President Trump’s Executive Orders and then President Biden’s withdrawal of some of those Orders, the drug manufacturers have found it difficult to keep the research and development and the manufacturing processes efficient. Throwing more change into this system is a prescription for shortages.

Fourth, is now the time we want to insert the government deeper into our healthcare? American’s trust in our government’s ability to advise us on healthcare is at an all-time low. It seems that there is more and more distrust in the accuracy and motivation of the guidance coming from Federal institutions. Somehow, our leaders need to work to regain this trust. Changing a part of our healthcare that produced a life saving vaccine in record time is not the way to accomplish this difficult task.

Fifth, the drug manufacturers and the insurance companies have already indicated their willingness to sit down and talk about improvements that can be made. There are bad players and bad rules and regulations that need to be dealt with. This seems to be a logical way forward.

As you can see there is a lot to consider in the months ahead. We’re at a critical crossroads. I ask that you pay attention as those in Washington consider these important changes to our healthcare. Don’t hesitate to tell them how you feel about these changes. The one thing that everyone in Washington cares about is your vote. Know where your Senators and Representative stand on these changes and don’t hesitate to tell them how you feel.

Best, Thair