Share this post:

My New Year’s Resolution List for Congress

Bob Blancato is the Executive Director of  National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP)

I believe New Year’s resolution lists can be extremely helpful. Making a list of resolutions allows you to set goals for the upcoming year to better yourself and those around you. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment when we’re able to check something off the list!

Likewise, it is important that Congress make a resolution list for 2018 to improve our nation and the lives of others. For those in government, we’ve already got a few ideas about what their goals should be in 2018. Check it out below!

  1. Repeal IPAB – IPAB was established by the Affordable Care Act to decrease Medicare spending if growth exceeds a certain target. If this happens, a board of 15 unelected officials are given a broad-range of authority to make decisions about cuts to Medicare spending. Such arbitrary cuts to Medicare are unacceptable, especially considering that these bureaucrats are unelected and in no way accountable to voters.

Medicare is extremely valuable to seniors like us who depend on the program for access to the medicine and health care services we need. But IPAB threatens to come between us and our doctors by making potentially drastic cuts to our Medicare. In fact, IPAB isn’t even required to maintain quality health care when making these cuts! In 2018, Congress should quickly repeal IPAB and ensure that seniors continue to have access to our doctors and coverage.

  1. Celebrate 15 years of Part D – This year marks the 15th anniversary of passage of this federal program which enjoys satisfaction ratings of nearly 90 percent by older adults, has come in under expected costs, maintained steady premiums, and improved the quality of life for seniors. Competition in the Part D marketplace has been one of the keys to its success, and this has allowed the program to provide access to affordable drug coverage while keeping costs low for older adults. The Part D program, which became law in 2003, needs to continue as it was adopted and Congress must protect it from changes that could undermine its structure and success.
  1. Protect U.S. consumers against counterfeit, substandard or unsafe medicines – Did you know in low- and middle-income countries 1 in 10 medical products is counterfeit? While it is important to ensure Americans have unfettered access to medications, it is equally as important to regulate the safety of them. Proposals to allow the importation of medicines, circumventing the robust safety standards we have in place here in the United States, could expose seniors to counterfeit or unsafe products. Though many argue importation of medicines could substantially reduce costs, the life-threatening consequences outweigh the benefits. In fact, the four former Food and Drug Administration commissioners sent a letter to members of Congress in opposition to drug importation proposals. Congress should oppose any proposals to allow drug importation.

What do you want to see on the government’s to-do list this year? Tell us in the comment section below.



Share this post:

Get the Facts About Senior Malnutrition

Good nutrition is essential to maintaining health and well-being, but many seniors in the United States are at risk for malnutrition. In fact, senior malnutrition costs the United States $51.3 billion per year.

Senior malnutrition is caused by a variety of factors, including health, income and socialization levels. For seniors who suffer from depression, dementia, dental issues or various chronic illnesses, appetite loss can contribute to malnutrition. And, living on a limited income might discourage some seniors from buying nutrient-rich groceries. Also, reduced socialization and living alone can make eating wholesome meals harder when you are cooking for only one. To spot senior malnutrition, friends, caregivers and family members should observe eating habits and watch for unusual weight loss.

It is important to remember that we can prevent malnutrition by eating nutrient-rich foods. To help, you can consult your physician on your dietary needs and use senior nutrition programs. Chronic health conditions may be prevented, delayed or managed through these nutrition services and programs. The Administration for Community Living’s Older Americans Act congregate and home-delivered meals programs provide healthy meals in senior centers and deliver meals to homebound older adults. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and the Nutrition Services Incentive Program are also great resources. You can find local nutrition programs via the Eldercare Locator.

One way to eat nutrient-rich foods inexpensively is to check weekly circulators at the front of the grocery store to see what’s on special and plan meals accordingly. Remember that frozen produce has the same nutrient values as fresh produce and can often be found on sale. You can also use coupons on some items. To help encourage healthy eating, you can also make some meals a social event. This makes dinner a bit more enjoyable, and friends can help cook for one another. Some great ways to do this are to throw a potluck dinner party or invite family over for a picnic.

By using these tips, we can work together to help prevent malnutrition. Read on to view our infographic on senior malnutrition and share it with a friend!

Bob Blancato is the National Coordinator for the Defeat Malnutrition Today Coalition

Senior Malnutrition Infographic

Share this post:

Open Enrollment Essentials from Medicare Today

As you likely know, Medicare open enrollment is currently underway. Open enrollment is your chance to shop around the Medicare marketplace, comparing the features of different Part D plans and deciding whether to switch policies based on your needs. These plans provide seniors with affordable access to prescription drugs, which help keep them healthy.

Surveys have shown that nine out of ten beneficiaries are consistently happy with their coverage. This is due largely in part to reliably affordable plans. Monthly premiums for Part D have been stable for years—around $34. Seniors with prescription needs may want to take advantage of these plans by participating in open enrollment before the deadline on December 7, 2016.

When participating, seniors should seek out resources to help them navigate the process. In addition to the many helpful pages on this website, Seniors Speak Out’s partner organization, Medicare Today, has useful information for older adults and caregivers. They created the image below to help guide your open enrollment process. The steps provided will help you evaluate your Part D prescription drug plan. You can visit or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) when you are ready to change your plan. Don’t forget to visit the Seniors Speak Out Fast Facts page for more information.

Look for this image at a local senior center to help you with open enrollment this year and remember: this is the only time of year to make changes to your Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Make sure you’re covered today for the care you may need tomorrow.



Share this post:

National Immunization Awareness Month

Guest post by Bob Blancato, longtime advocate for older Americans.

With summer winding down and National Immunization Awareness Month coming to an end, communicating the importance of immunizations for Americans of all ages is top of mind – but particularly for older adults. A growing concern is the declining immunization rates in seniors.

According to the 2013 National Health Interview Survey, only one out of four adults over the age of 60 had received the shingles vaccination. Additionally, only one out of six adults over the age of 19 had received a Tdap vaccine in the last eight years, a vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Even more alarming, only 60 percent of adults over the age of 65 received a flu vaccination in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These low vaccination rates are especially startling when you consider hospitalization and death rates due to these preventable diseases. According to the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs, between 80 percent and 90 percent of seasonal flu related deaths have occurred in people over the age of 65. The CDC also reports that adults over the age of 65 account for between 50 percent and 60 percent of seasonal flu related hospitalizations. These hospitalizations and deaths are preventable thanks to vaccines.

As we age, our immune systems weaken, and we are more susceptible to infection. By staying up-to-date on vaccinations, seniors can significantly improve their chances of preventing these life threatening infections.

National Immunization Awareness Month is an opportunity to bring awareness to declining immunization rates in seniors and the importance of getting vaccinated as a part of a healthy lifestyle. But we must remember to stress the importance of immunization year-round – not just in August. Talk to your friends about this growing threat to the senior community and get vaccinated today!

Don’t know what vaccinations you need? Take this CDC quiz or talk with your doctor. Once you know, use the tool below to find a vaccine provider near you!


Share this post:

Advocates Speak Out: Bob Blancato (Part 2)

In preparation for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging starting today, Seniors Speak Out’s Nona Bear spoke with Bob Blancato, a long-time advocate for older Americans who has been involved in the past three White House Conferences on Aging, twice in leadership roles. Below is the second part of the two part conversation. To read the first, click here.

Part Two

Nona Bear (NB): What is the greatest challenge for these Conferences?

Bob Blancato (BB): In 1995, the political tone was a bit different than previous Conferences and many felt the aging programs were being threatened, which made the delegates that came much more defensive of the programs. It was sort of a battle of wills, but as a result the number one resolution became to preserve Social Security now and for the future.

NB: Since you have had the unique position of being an executive director of the Conference and an attendee, can you tell us a bit about how you think we can make sure the gains and achievements from each year are implemented and not lost?

BB: In 1995, we developed a policy that said no more than 50 resolutions would be adopted and we would have a distinct “Top 10” group that delegates would vote on. That same year, we also committed to doing a series of post-Conference grassroots activities to help move recommendations forward. We’ve been fortunate in the past to have bipartisan legislators that have taken recommendations from the Conferences and translated them into policy. I’m confident, now that the aging advocacy world is far bigger than it used to be, we’ll be able to move the things that emerge from this year’s Conference into something more concrete.

NB: What would you like to see come out of this year’s Conference?

BB: In the broad sense, we’ve got to deal with issues surrounding long-term care. We’ve got to step up on a bipartisan basis to come up with ideas and solutions that address the greatest fiscal liability that is confronting the boomer generation. I think the potential is there.

In the healthy aging space I would like to see us start getting practical about the basic things you can do throughout your lifespan to improve aging, such as developing good nutrition, the importance of education, maintaining the ability for older workers to be properly trained so they can continue to contribute and understanding from a preventative health standpoint why Medicare Part D is as important as it is. It isn’t just that older people have access to prescription drugs; it’s that they now have access to a better way of living because they have medications to help them. Within that we also have to make sure we tackle the growing concern about medication adherence.

In the long-term services category, I’d like to see an honest conversation about what we need to do. In terms of elder justice, I’d like to see us put the necessary resources into place to prevent elder abuse.

NB: One thing I know will come up is Medicare, and how it has improved the lives of seniors. How should we frame the discussion both at the Conference and afterwards?

BB: The important thing is to have a framework about what in Medicare has to be modernized. When I talk to older individuals, I tell them that when Medicare first started it was the best program to treat you once you were sick, but it didn’t do a lot to prevent you from being sick in the first place. That’s the new direction of Medicare. There have been more preventative measures added to Medicare in the past 10 years than in the past 40 years of its history. I think the focus on offering preventative benefits will save money down the road.

I would also like to see this Conference come out with a strong reaffirmation on the importance of Part D and particularly with a strong statement assuring the protection for low-income seniors moving forward.

To learn more about this year’s White House Conference on aging, visit their website.

Share this post:

Advocates Speak Out: Bob Blancato (Part 1)

In preparation for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging next week, Seniors Speak Out’s Nona Bear spoke with Bob Blancato, a long-time advocate for older Americans who has been involved in the past three White House Conferences on Aging, twice in leadership roles. Below is the first part of the two part conversation. Be sure to check in tomorrow for the second part.

Part One

Nona Bear (NB): Can you explain your background when it comes to being an advocate for seniors? What are some of the issues you focus on?

Bob Blancato (BB): When Congressman Mario Biaggi of New York, my previous boss in Congress, became an original member of the House Select Committee on Aging in the late 1970s, his getting on the committee, and then becoming the chairman years later, gave me an unprecedented opportunity to become an advocate for older Americans. So it all came as a result of this work assignment. Today, many of the issues we work on are the same issues we’ve worked on in the past, such as promoting economic security for older individuals, ensuring quality of health, emphasizing the importance of the Older Americans Act, preventing elder abuse and combatting age discrimination. These are all issues that have transcended time and are still very important.

NB: Tell me a bit about your role in the past White House Conferences on Aging?

BB: I’ll have been to four of the six White House Conferences on Aging: 1981, 1995, 2005 and will be attending the upcoming one in 2015. I wish I had been at the 1971 Conference; it was such a dynamic event and had the largest crowd of any White House Conference. The best story that came out of it had to do with Richard Nixon who had Arthur Flemming as his executive director. They wanted Richard Nixon to announce the Older Americans Act so they prepared the speech and despite Arthur Flemming suggesting $50 million [to support the bill], Nixon came in and announced an initial support for $100 million. It is a thing everyone remembers, it blew everyone away.

NB: What has been the most remarkable achievement coming out of past Conferences?

BB: In addition to what Nixon did in 1971, the 1961 White House Conference on Aging laid the groundwork for the Great Society programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. The 1971 Conference also laid the groundwork for what became the National Institute on Aging and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. In 1981, the Conference was very contentious, but it addressed the contrasting views of what to do with Social Security at that point. The National Commission on Social Security Reform, informally known as the Greenspan Commission, was created as a result and it came up with the plan that saved Social Security from bankruptcy. It was a tough vote, but it fulfilled its mandate of preserving Social Security.

Share this post:

The White House Conference on Aging: Regional Forum Wrap-Up

As you know if you have been following the blog for the past few months, the White House has been hosting a series of regional forums on aging as part of its preparation for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA), scheduled for July 13th. My friend and longtime senior advocate Bob Blancato has been closely following the events and sharing updates with you periodically. He has also been invited to attend the larger conference this month, so be sure to follow the conference’s live stream to stay updated on the action.

As in the regional forums, Bob will be encouraging participants to focus on some important issues that will enable seniors to lead longer, healthier lives. For example, Bob has long been a crusader for elder justice. In conjunction with the Cleveland forum, he wrote in the Logan Daily:

“Seniors are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect as they age, which results in both human and economic costs. According to the federal government, more than one in 10 people over 60, or six million older adults, are victims of elder abuse every year. Elder abuse can increase the risk of premature death, cause unnecessary illness and suffering and threaten the economic security of older Americans. For example, at least $2.9 billion is lost to financial exploitation of older adults each year. It impacts seniors across all economic, racial, and ethnic lines regardless of whether they are living independently, in assisted living or in a nursing home.”

In addition to elder justice, Bob has also been encouraging the White House to focus on nutrition as a key part of healthy aging.  He recently wrote on our blog:

“[G]ood nutrition practiced throughout the lifespan can lead to healthier aging. … [T]he three major chronic diseases that impact 87 percent of seniors—diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol or some combination—can be prevented and/or managed with appropriate nutrition interventions. Overall, lack of good nutrition drives up health care costs. … This is a critically important topic to address as a society which accomplishes healthy aging is stronger in all regards. I commend the WHCOA for including this as a goal, but would like to ensure that good nutrition is also a central focus.”

Bob has also highlighted seniors’ access to affordable, quality health care as a key concern. To learn more about the WHCOA, please visit their website.  Also, make sure to keep checking back with us leading up to the big event to find out all the latest, and consider signing up for the WHCOA mailing list or sharing your story!