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Who Do You Trust?

A long, long time ago there was a TV show called “Who Do You Trust.” The basic premise was whether the contestant thought he or she knew the right answer to the question the game show host asked (which happened to be Johnny Carson for most of the show’s run) or trusted that their partner had the correct answer. It was up to the contestant to analyze what they knew about their partner to guide them on whether they should trust that their partner knew the correct answer. I think the question on everybody’s mind these days centers around the fact that we are not sure who we can trust to answer today’s critically important questions?

How we overcome this pandemic is probably the biggest question we needed answers to. The COVID-19 pandemic was a big unknown in the beginning; no one knew how it came to be, how it spread, what the symptoms were or how sick it was going to make us. Our elected officials often contradicted the advice given by government scientists. The vaccine approval process was rumored to be influenced by political motives. We really didn’t know who to trust.

As we begin the rollout of the two vaccines that gained emergency use authorization to date, there are many that still don’t know if they can trust the vaccine to be safe. Here are some points that have helped me decide that the vaccine is safe.

  • The breakthrough science that is the backbone of this new vaccine has been actively studied for over 5 years.
  • This new approach does NOT use a weakened portion of the virus to induce the body to produce antibodies.
  • The vaccine was approved in Europe weeks before it was approved here and people in Europe have been vaccinated with minimal adverse effects.
  • Over 40,000 people participated in the phase three study.
  • I have attended many, and testified in some, of the FDA’s advisory committee meetings to evaluate prescription drugs. I have found them to be thorough and unbiased.
  • While it sells papers (or these days gets clicks) to highlight any adverse reactions, the fact of the matter is that any prescription drug or vaccine will have some adverse reactions. So far, any risk of adverse reactions has been far outweighed by the benefits.

The only real chance we have to return to normal is for enough people to be vaccinated that the virus has nowhere to spread. I hope that we can trust the facts and use our own deductive powers to see that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Best, Thair

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Speaking Out in 2021 is Critical

Happy new year. I hope we all can, as the old song says, “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” as we go forward into 2021.

I think it will be critical for you to make your voices heard in 2021 as we support the positive changes to healthcare and fight against the negative changes that will hurt older Americans.

No matter what happens tomorrow in the Senate races in Georgia there will be slim majorities in both the House and the Senate. Legislation may pass or fail by just a few key votes. Your informed voices could have a huge impact on the outcome of legislation, regulation and executive orders that come out of Congress and the new administration.

I cannot overemphasize the impact of a constituent’s opinion on each of your senators and representative. The politics of many states and congressional districts are changing and that fact just magnifies the importance of a well-informed constituent. At Seniors Speak Out we will work hard to wade through the rhetoric and “Washington speak” to give you the facts on how proposed changes will affect older Americans. The pandemic has accelerated many changes to how our healthcare is administered. Seniors Speak Out will work hard to keep you informed and amplify your voices as we face the proposed changes that are sure to come.

Best, Thair

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It Just Makes Me Mad!

I know I was supposed to take the holidays off and start fresh in January, but this Most Favored Nation (MFN) thing that is supposed to go into effect in January has been simmering in the back of my mind and finally just boiled over. As you might remember, “this MFN thing” was an Executive Order signed by President Trump shortly after the election. Some feel it was in retaliation for the timing of the release of the Phase 3 vaccine results, but whatever the reason, it finalized a concept that has been kicked around for over a year. It is an attempt at lowering drug prices by basing the price we pay for a particular drug on the average price a group of foreign “MFNs” pays for that drug. You can click here to read more about this approach in one of my earlier blogs.

While there are many details of this executive order that are complicated and convoluted, it’s the overall approach that really bothers me. Rather than exporting our successful innovation methods that makes us the world leader in discovering medicines that save and improve our lives, we are choosing to import the rationing and price control methods of countries that don’t share the same level of concern for the patient that we do. It just seems crazy that we have suddenly decided that looking to other countries is a solution to our healthcare costs.

I know the comparison might not be the same, but I can’t help but think of the oil cartel that has a big influence on oil prices. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed by five founding countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Their goal was, and continues to be, the control of the price of oil to their advantage by controlling their production, much to the disadvantage of the United States and other countries. OPEC has a level of control over the price of oil and it has an impact on what we pay for gas. Why would we allow this same type of control to creep into our healthcare system? Why would we turn over the control of the prices of some of our prescription drugs to a group of foreign countries? Why does this seem to be a logical solution?

Is it fair that foreign countries should pay less for certain medicines than we do? No, but the solution certainly isn’t the capitulation of our responsibilities to foreign countries. This surrendering of control makes me mad. There are problems with how we receive and pay for our healthcare. There are changes that need to be made, but we need to look inward and correct the inefficiencies, streamline the processes, base cost on results, reward preventative care, and encourage innovation . . . rather than depend on knee-jerk reactions and superficial solutions.

Thanks for listening to my tirade. I’ll try to calm down and get back into the holiday spirit. Let’s hope for some well thought out solutions in 2021. Have a happy new year.

Best, Thair

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20/20 Hindsight

You’ll probably read a lot of year end missives talking about how bad 2020 was, probably because it was really, really bad. Think of the babies born in 2020 who will forever be asked about the year they were born as if they could remember their first year on earth. It will be remembered as a year of challenges and heartache and hopefully a year of solutions. I’m not going to dwell on all the bad things that happened in 2020; I want to look forward, using our perfect 20/20 hindsight to guide us as we venture into 2021.

We found out in 2020 that there really are things that can happen that will bring the whole world to its knees. Hopefully, going forward, we will put more effort into studying these viruses so we can be better prepared.

We found out that trusting our scientists makes sense. As Aaron Burr says in the musical Hamilton, we should “talk less, smile more.” Talking less would have helped us listen to what our scientists were saying, and smiling more would have helped everyone’s attitude as we made our way through the pandemic. Keeping our scientists free from political influence should be a priority going forward. The trust in our institutions that exist to keep us safe has been compromised, we need to rebuild that trust and independence.

We reaffirmed the power of our country’s innovation machine. America has built an environment that enables innovation by limiting government regulations while maintaining government oversight. This balance enabled the creation of a COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year, a feat that was deemed impossible in February. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first vaccine to gain emergency use authorization was created by a partnership of companies that didn’t accept any funds from the government. They feared at the outset that any government interference would slow their progress, and it looks like they were right. As we look to 2021, our government should realize how powerful America’s innovation machine is and find ways to further encourage innovation . . . finding cures saves lives and saves money.

And finally, in 2020 we found how divisiveness stagnates us — how it hinders progress. I hope that the new Administration, coupled with narrow majorities in the House and the Senate will require Washington to cooperate. We might even find that less rhetoric and more discussion will produce progress.

I hope that our perfect 20/20 hindsight gives us a clearer vision of how we can move forward in 2021. I look forward to continuing to speak out for seniors. Have a safe holiday and I’ll see you in January.

Best, Thair

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How Did Your Medicare Open Season Go?

Well, open season for changing Medicare insurance is over (although you can still change your prescription drug insurance, Medicare Part D, until tomorrow). How did it go? Did you keep the insurance you had? If you did you would be in good company, historically over 80% of us don’t change our insurance. Did you take the opportunity to really evaluate your options or did you just take a cursory review, or did you let the opportunity go by and just keep the insurance you had continue for another year? Many people I have talked with didn’t take the time to review their insurance, a dangerous approach given the changes that are going on, to say nothing of the changes to your health that might occur. I warned, cajoled, even begged everyone in earlier blogs to take the time to review their coverage. I hope some of you listened. Let me tell you what steps I went through as I reviewed my insurance and how I made my final decision.

I moved last year and, for the first time, chose a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan. Generally, a MA plan offers more benefits, usually some discounts or free memberships to health clubs, often some hearing benefits, maybe even dental and eye benefits. Surprisingly, these often come with no premiums. For me this was a big change from the premiums I was paying with my old supplementary insurance. As you might imagine these benefits and low or no premiums are offset by some stipulations and rules that need to be considered. Often their network of doctors and hospitals is more restricted, and your copays and other out-of-pocket costs are larger. Many MA plans include prescription drugs, but their formulary may be more tightly controlled. Since MA plans get paid a fixed cost for each member of their plan, they are incentivized to keep you healthy, hence the focus on fitness, healthy living, and preventive care. They are also focused on keeping costs down. Those are the tradeoffs I looked at going into the open season.

I first read my insurance company’s Annual Notice of Changes. I was pleased to find that my copayment for a specialist dropped 20% and for hospital specialists and treatment dropped $110 dollars or 25%. That was big for me since I had paid both of these copays for some tests that I had. The tests turned out fine, but it was pleasing to see that I will pay less in 2021 if I need that sort of healthcare. My drug plan stayed the same except for a big reduction in the cost of insulin in 2021 which was capped due to legislation and rules instigated by Washington. This will have a big impact on many diabetics. Given the healthcare needs of my wife and myself we found that staying with are current MA plan continued to save us money and fit our situation.

I hope that increased competition gave you more choices and more opportunity to save money in 2021. I will be really interested to see what next year’s open season brings. With the hope of vaccines allowing us to return to normal by the second half of 2021, we could see many changes in how healthcare is administered. Telehealth, in-home tests, more sophisticated medical devices to monitor our health, may all lead to changes to how we receive and pay for healthcare.

The new administration will certainly be pressured to control healthcare costs. I hope they see how competition is the quickest and best way to balance access with cost. I’m convinced that the reason my MA plan dropped their copays was not because they had a banner year — many doctors and hospitals saw a big drop in revenue due to the pandemic. What these plans do see in 2021 is a big increase in healthcare demand due to our country’s return to normal as we emerge from the pandemic and an increase in competition to satisfy that demand. A system that is based on cost controls and limited access would not respond as quickly, or at all, to this increased demand.

Keep track of your costs and access to care in 2021. Document the changes in your health. Know where you stand with your prescription drug costs. These are all things that will help you make an informed choice when next year’s open season rolls around. It could have a big impact on your cost and level of care going forward.

Stay Healthy, Thair

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COVID-19 Vaccine – It’s Use or Lose

The great news of how effective the first two vaccine candidates were in the phase three trials gave all of us a burst of hope. Finally, we began to believe that this demoralizing pandemic would finally end. However, there is a hurdle that we need to get over to make this come true, the surprising hesitancy of many in America to take the vaccine. The fact of the matter is, we need somewhere between 60 and 70% of a community to be vaccinated to obtain herd immunity, the point where the virus quits spreading. A poll a few weeks ago showed that less than 50% of the people polled said they were going to get vaccinated as soon as it came available. A more recent poll showed the number increased to above 50%, a step in the right direction but not the participation numbers we need to stop this pandemic. There has been much discussion about why people are hesitant, with many possible reasons put forth. There are two oft sited reasons that deal with the safety of the vaccine that seem to be at the top of the list that I would like to discuss. Hopefully, it will shed some light on why these vaccines are safe.

1. The Vaccine was developed to quickly.

Historically, vaccine development has taken four or more years to be approved for human use. While we have had vaccines for hundreds of years, the science behind vaccines has been slow to progress but in the last few decades it has accelerated at a breathtaking speed. While the approach taken by these first two COVID-19 vaccines is new, it wasn’t discovered this year. Two married scientists, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, co-founders of BioNTech, the firm that has teamed with Pfizer, have been working on this vaccine approach since 2001 and have been working on a COVID-19 vaccine since January. With the funding and worldwide logistical support of Pfizer and the commitment of the FDA to cut through the bureaucratic red tape, the new vaccine has gone through all of the required testing in record time. Their phase III testing had over 40,000 participants. They had to jump through all the hoops any new vaccine was required to accomplish. They proved that it works and that it’s safe.

2. The FDA was pressured by politicians to cut corners.

The FDA is recognized worldwide as the gold-standard in the process of approving the safety and efficacy of prescription drugs. The FDA is made up of career scientists who have maintained this reputation for decades and they did it from a commitment to excellence, not through a commitment to any administration or political party. America is the leader in drug development because of the high standards required by the FDA. One of the ways the FDA assures the absence of any political influence is the approval review by an advisory committee made up of external scientists and experts. The committee that will meet on December 10th to review the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC). These committees are thorough and transparent. I have personally testified many times during the public comment portion of various advisory committee meetings and can attest to their attention to detail and their commitment to transparency. The FDA is not about to jeopardize their gold-standard reputation, to say nothing of the health and wellbeing of the whole world, due to the pressure of a lame duck administration.

Three past United States presidents have committed to getting vaccinated as soon as it becomes available. They, more than anyone, understand the workings of the FDA and they trust them to protect us, as we should. The only way we can beat this virus is to take advantage of the great scientific minds and amazing manufacturing capabilities that have made this vaccine a reality. Let’s all get vaccinated as soon as we can, so we don’t lose the chance to once again gather together.

Best, Thair

p.s. I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the importance of this day of infamy and those who made the ultimate sacrifice at Pearl Harbor. In the space of six months, while serving as a B-52 crew member in the Air Force, I lost fellow aviators and friends in two separate airplane crashes. I am honored to have served with these heroes and I use December 7th as a time recognize and remember all who serve or have served.

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Drug Price Interim Final Rule Order – Two Reasons It Is the Wrong Approach

The President, through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), issued an interim final rule after the election that finalizes his prior approach to dealing with the cost of prescription drug prices. It is called the Most Favored Nation approach and amended earlier EO’s, one of which used the term International Price Index. All of these EOs were attempts to lower drug prices by using the prices that foreign countries pay for specific Medicare Part B drugs. You can read some more background on these EOs or rule changes in some of my earlier blogs, here and here.

It only seems fair that we shouldn’t pay more than foreign countries for some prescription drugs, but this new regulation will set the price based on countries with single payer healthcare 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. These facts bring me to the first reason this is the wrong approach.

Foreign countries use many methods to negotiate lower prices, they lower competition by telling the competition that only one class of drug will be available in their country and that one will be the one with the lowest price. There’s no thought to those in their country who may do better on another drug in that class. They may even delay the entry of a particular drug, sometimes for long periods of times, until the manufacturer lowers the price. One of the ways governments dictate the rules and use of healthcare is through rationing, controlling patient access. If we import these foreign countries prices, we are importing their practices of price fixing, rationing, and controlling access. The Executive Order’s own language recognizes this fact. The first notice of this approach to lowering drug prices was released over two years ago with the promise that the new approach would operate “without any restrictions on patient access.” The government’s own advisory group, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, expressed doubts this could be accomplished without making some products unavailable to patients. The latest regulation finalized the government’s approach, with the actuary at CMS stating that their estimate is that 19% of the Part B drugs (the drugs that this EO targets) will be unavailable to the patients. The final recognition of denying access comes from the EO itself which states, “a portion of the [Medicare] savings is attributable to beneficiaries not accessing their drugs through the Medicare benefit, along with the associated lost utilization.” This approach saves money by denying access, which is one of the ways foreign countries save money. When we import their prices, we import their ways of doing business.

The second reason this regulation is the wrong approach focuses on a much larger and more troubling scenario, the use of healthcare proposals for political reasons. Why was this approach unveiled two years ago just prior to the med-term elections? Why was this again released in an unfinished state hoping for negotiations, two months before the presidential election and then finalized after the negotiations failed and then released after the election, by a lame duck President. Some have indicated that the release of this EO was solely as retribution for drug manufacturers not releasing the results of the vaccine trials until after the election. Whether these accusations are true or not, just the optics of the releases troubles me. Executive Orders, rule changes and legislation should only be done for the betterment of the American people. The timing of these actions leads one to conjecture that these actions were taken for political reasons. Do we want to give our government more control over our healthcare when we see these types of questionable actions?

There are many ways to make our healthcare more efficient and less costly, it’s my belief that giving more power to the government is not the path to either of these outcomes. I’m a believer in the free market with the umbrella of government oversight accomplished through the checks and balances established in our Constitution. Look how our country responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first company that completed successful COVID-19 vaccine trials and will most likely get the first emergency authorization, was one of a few, if not the only company, that didn’t take any government funds.

This proposal imports the methods of foreign countries that uses government controls to set prices and limit access. I think we need to rethink how to tackle this problem, because giving more power to the government is not the solution.

Best, Thair   

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Thanksgiving – A Tough Year to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is usually a time for families to gather together and remember the things we are thankful for. Instead, as the pandemic rages, many states are encouraging their citizens to not gather with anyone that lives outside of their house. What kind of Thanksgiving is this going to be?

I’m not going to tell everyone to soldier on, we’ve done about as much soldiering as we can stand. We’ve been avoiding getting together with our loved ones for almost 9 months and now, on the one day of the year when we all look forward to gathering with our loved ones, we are asked to keep to ourselves. In the vernacular of a younger generation, “this stinks,” or something like that. So . . . what do we do? What can possibly be salvaged from this terrible situation. I’m going to talk about two things that might help us as we strive to get through this tough time.

My first suggestion is, be grateful. We finally have some good news and can finally begin to see a time when this will all be over. The recent great news concerning two vaccines gives us hope that the virus will be contained. We have hope that by next Thanksgiving we will again be able to gather. How grateful we should be that our healthcare system continues to rise to the challenge of this pandemic. How grateful we should be that we will probably have an approval of two vaccines sometime next month and that they could be 95% effective. At the beginning of the pandemic, no one at the CDC had any hope that a vaccine would be developed this fast and would be this effective. In keeping with our healthcare theme, showing gratitude, according to one spiritual leader, “is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription.” Showing gratitude is an excellent way to keep us positive.

There is another thing we can do this Thanksgiving that could have a long lasting and lifesaving impact on our families. Thanksgiving Day is National Family Health History Day. This is an ideal day for assessing the health risks for illnesses known to run in your families. Here’s a couple of reasons why we should share and document this family health assessment:  

  1. Some family members may have died young

If you have chronic conditions that run in your family, it’s important to discuss the family’s health history, especially if there were family members who died before the conditions became evident.

  • Many families tend to get these diseases

The most common conditions that occur in families are heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (including colon, stomach, endometrium, lung, bladder, breast, and skin) as well as high blood pressure.

The CDC has a great web page (click here) on how to collect and how to act on your family health history. This information could be invaluable as you and your doctor work to diagnose and effectively treat you or your loved ones. It could guide the doctor to look for specific conditions prior to them becoming a big health problem.

Now, you may ask, how can I do this great thing when our Thanksgiving gatherings are going to be small or non-existent? Well, consider this, use zoom or some other video conferencing software to virtually gather your family together. Tell them what you are planning and why and give them some time to gather information. A big requirement of these health information meetings is to document the results. By recording the session, you can ensure that you (or your assigned recorder) can go back and review the recording to ensure you don’t miss anything of importance.

This Thanksgiving will be different, but if we step back and think of the things that we are grateful for and then share those thoughts with those around us, we can create some positive vibes for us and those around us, and, if we document our family health history we will create a valuable tool that could have life changing impacts on those we love. We really could have some things to be thankful for and, best of all, we could have something positive to say when someone asks us how we spent the COVID Thanksgiving of 2020.

Stay healthy, Thair

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Our Latest Virtual Townhall – A Recap

Last Thursday, November 12th, we held a virtual townhall to share some thoughts on the election and its impact on healthcare in America, and then discuss the importance of America’s caregivers, especially in our current COVID-19 environment, and to offer some resources that are available to caregivers. If you want to see a recording of the townhall click here.

I started out by pointing out that there are three ways to institute changes to our healthcare; legislation, Executive Orders (EO) or rule changes. On the legislative front, the Democrats, rather than increasing their majority in the House, lost seats, with the final tally looking like they will have just a five to ten seat majority. That leaves a lot of room for the Republicans to have influence over legislation in the House.

The Democrats were also hoping to gain a majority in the Senate but now, the best they can do, depending on the outcome of the two Georgia senate runoffs, is a 50/50 tie, which gives them the chance to choose the majority leader and for the Vice President to break any tie votes but the Senate calendar and priorities will have to be done in conjunction with the Republican leaders. Many pollsters are saying that the Republicans are more likely to win the Senate seats in Georgia, but we’re not to keen on pollsters right now so we’ll just have to wait and see. What all this means is it will be tough for the President Elect to pass any large healthcare legislation.

I then reviewed some of the proposed healthcare changes and discussed their chances of being implemented in the near future:

  • Medicare for All – Won’t happen.
  • Biden’s plan, lower age to 60, offer younger people the choice of joining a government healthcare plan – Not this year and probably not for at least two years.
  • Let government negotiate drug prices – Some bi-partisan interest but not by itself, could be part of a “deal” that gets negotiated.
  • Importation of drugs – Already an EO, logistically won’t work, probably will die as an option.
  • IPI (international pricing index) or most favored nation pricing method – Already an EO – Hard to implement, I don’t think it’s a change that the President Elect wants to pursue.
  • Limiting the amount of drug price increases over a year – Has some bipartisan support, might be part of a “deal”
  • The ACA – The President Elect will work hard to expand, may be a place for some of the other changes to get done.
  • Telehealth – Will be have bipartisan support to expand its use.
  • Cap on yearly Medicare Part D out-of-pocket costs – May be something that would gain bipartisan support.
  • Fee-for-service versus value-based care – The migration to value based care will be accelerated.

Covid-19 has put near term changes to healthcare on the back burner, but President Elect Biden promised healthcare changes and he could use budget reconciliation to pass some items. We need to be vigilance to identify those changes that help and those that hurt the patient’s access to, and the cost of, their healthcare.

I then turned the time over to John Schall. He is the CEO of the Caregiver Action Network (CAN) and has over 30 years’ experience both on the Hill and with advocacy organizations.

John started out by pointing out how much the Senate has changed since he worked for Bob Dole and how hard it was to predict what changes would happen going forward.

John reminded us that this month was National Family Caregivers Month and that CAN’s theme this year is caregiving in crisis. He said that every caregiver and their loved one should be involved in reviewing their Medicare coverage during the open enrollment period that we are currently in, not just because Medicare and insurance plans change but that the beneficiary’s health changes. A link to an informative webinar on Medicare that John recommended is here.

John then discussed that the historical profile of the caregiver is a 49 year old women with kids and a job, caring for her mother or mother-in-law. He said that caregiver is still on the job but there has been a huge increase, over a million, in millennials becoming primary caregivers. This has had an impact during the COVID-19 pandemic because many of them have had a reduction in income and their financial burden has increased. They are experiencing the toll that caregiving extracts. The facts are, caregivers have a higher chance of depression, high blood pressure, diabetes and having a stroke. COVID has magnified these problems.

In this environment the caregiver has to weigh the risk of even being around their loved one, taking them to the doctor or helping them in other ways. These are tough decisions that weigh heavily on the caregiver. John spoke as to the financial cost that often accompanies care giving and that it can cost as much as $10,000 a year to give care to a loved one.

John pointed out the huge increase in the use of telehealth but reminded us that it also has its challenges. If that caregiver is not part of the discussion then they don’t get the doctor’s guidance first hand and they also can’t share the knowledge they have of their loved one’s condition.

National Family Caregivers Month has always been a good time to check up on those we love. The Thanksgiving edition of USA Today will have a special insert sponsored by CAN that will offer tips and help to caregivers. John mentioned that there is now a Family Health History day on Thanksgiving Day. This is a day to share and obtain health history from your family and information about your ancestors. Health history is becoming very important as treatments become more and more personalized. This important information has the chance to save a life.

After John’s discussion the meeting was opened up for any questions. I started off by stating how important vaccines were in keeping our loved ones healthy and that the just  announced good news about a COVID-19 vaccine may open the door for older Americans to get their other life improving and even life saving vaccines. I asked John if this is important for caregivers. John stated an emphatical yes, and stated that because of the reduction by the CDC in their recommendation for some vaccines it is very important for the caregiver to do all they can to ensure that their loved ones get the various vaccines that can have such an impact on their life.

A question from a viewer stated that they were struck by the statistics on depression and asked if there were any tips or helps that John had. John stated that the caregiver needed to keep themselves healthy, both physically and mentally, so they can continue to giver care rather than becoming unhealthy and needing their own caregiver. He also pointed out that CAN has a help desk, tasked with professionals, that could be a resource for caregivers. The link to that help desk is here.

Another question was directed to me asking if I thought that a cap on Medicare Part D might be a candidate for bipartisan cooperation and get implemented. I said that President Elect Biden might try to pass and infrastructure bill first, which could have a lot of bipartisan support, and then go to a Part D cap. The cap could be an excellent candidate since it shows Biden accomplishing something in the healthcare arena.

The final question concerned a Biden proposal which allowed support and payments for services that kept patients out of institutional care. John said that CAN enthusiastically supports this approach, and he was especially pleased with the multi-pronged approach this proposal championed.

It was honor to be on this townhall with John. Please look for more of these virtual townhalls as we cover topics that affect older Americans.

Best, Thair

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Veteran’s Day – Ways We Can Honor Our Countries Veterans

November 12th is Veterans Day, a time we reflect on the sacrifice and service of those that served. As a veteran myself, I’ve observed a change over the years in the way the public has honored our veterans. As a B-52 bombardier I spent a few years sitting nuclear alert and had a tour in southeast Asia toward the end of the Vietnam War. I don’t remember anyone thanking me for my service during that time frame, and I know of others who even endured negative reactions toward them for serving in that controversial war. It is different now. I often am thanked for my service, which sometimes makes me a little uncomfortable because I feel the ones that really deserve the honor are those who made the ultimate sacrifice or were injured either physically or mentally during their service. These veterans have earned the best healthcare our country can provide, yet there are many veterans who face barriers in getting the healthcare they need.  Here are just two ways we can honor our veterans.

First, don’t quit thanking veterans for their service. While it might make some uncomfortable, the bottom line is that every veteran took an oath to protect and defend our country, even to the sacrifice of their own life. Whether they were injured or not they were willing to give the ultimate sacrifice and that deserves our thanks. Something that many people do not know is that the oath a veteran takes when they join the service does not expire. They make a lifelong promise to defend our country.

Second, do all you can do to get the veterans the healthcare they deserve. There have been conditions that have come to light of some of the deficiencies in healthcare our veterans have faced. There has been substandard hospital care and a lack of access to convenient healthcare services that have plagued veterans. Here are just three of the areas that need to be improved:

  • The patient’s voice needs to be part of the dialogue as we consider improvements to veteran’s healthcare. Many of the past and present problems could have been avoided if they would have listened to the patient.
  • Better transparency and accountability is needed when it comes to the limitations of the veteran’s prescription drug formulary. The VA has 1,745 prescription drugs listed on its formulary; a common Medicare Part D prescription drug plan has 3,104. You can understand why many veterans choose to pay the extra premiums and join Medicare Part D. Veterans shouldn’t be short changed when it comes to the availability of prescription drugs.
  • Speak out on the need for increased support for veterans mental healthcare. An alarming number of veterans are returning from war with serious mental health conditions. It is sad that these heroes survive the perils of war only to take their own life due to untreated PTSD. They need and deserve the best help available as they fight to overcome the mental impact of their war experiences.

It’s up to us to not only thank them for their service but to also fight for their healthcare like they fought for our freedoms.

I’m thankful to the veterans who fought so that we could vote for the candidates of our choice. It is just one of the freedoms that they have fought to protect for almost 250 years. I will continue to thank them for their service and fight to get them the healthcare they deserve.

Best, Thair

P.S. Don’t forget to join our virtual town hall this Thursday, November 12th at 2:00 pm ET. I’ll talk about some of the changes to healthcare we can expect in the new administration and our special guest speaker, John Schall, CEO of Caregiver Action Network, will talk about caregiving in the COVID-19 environment, the National Family Health History day and the yearly Medicare open enrollment. Please RSVP at the link below: