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Our Yearly Survey Results

Last week we held a Facebook Live event that reviewed our yearly Medicare Part D prescription program satisfaction survey. Almost from the beginning of the implementation of Part D, the Healthcare Leadership Council, through its Medicare Today coalition, has conducted a yearly satisfaction survey to determine how Medicare’s Part D program is doing. The results of this yearly survey continue to be very positive, in fact the satisfaction level went up in this year’s survey. You can see a summary of the results of the survey here.

Morning Consult, an award-winning Decision Intelligence company, conducted our satisfaction survey. In our Facebook Live event, Matt Monday from Morning Consult and I reviewed the results and discussed the possible impacts of the recent changes to Medicare Part D. I’ll offer a short recap below, but you can click here if you’d like to see the entire event.

I started the review by pointing out that the Inflation Reduction Act, often called IRA, contains policies that seniors said they opposed if it interfered with their Part D plans. I did mention that IRA did contain a good change which limited the yearly out-of-pocket costs that seniors pay for prescription drugs but, unfortunately, it did implement government-controlled price controls which would slow biopharmaceutical innovation. I voiced that this is an example of how lawmakers often ignore seniors’ input on healthcare issues.

I went on to say that the survey showed that seniors remained highly satisfied with their Part D plans, which is not surprising given their access to safe affordable drugs for even the most serious healthcare issues. The survey showed that seniors were happy with the choice and flexibility of their plans. I highlighted the fact that Part D has overperformed from the beginning, coming in 40% below projected costs while premiums remained stable.

I did mention that the new legislation put a six percent cap on yearly premiums causing me to think lawmakers feared the new IRA policies would increase Part D premiums, forcing them to put in some protections so it wouldn’t scare seniors too much.

I then got off my soap box and welcomed Matt Monday to go over the survey in more detail.

Matt started by telling us that the survey was conducted at the end of June and they questioned over 1,000 seniors who have Part D insurance. The survey focused on their satisfaction with their Part D insurance, the perceptions they have around their coverage and the potential impacts of government price setting of prescription drugs. Matt pointed out that many of these survey questions are tracked over many years, making the resulting trends very compelling.

There were four main findings:

  1. 88% of seniors were satisfied with their Part D coverage which continues the year over year trend.
  2. Two out of three seniors felt a peace of mind that they were covered and nine out of ten felt their coverage was convenient to use.
  3. 90% agree that they have access to affordable prescription drugs and that their costs would be higher without Part D.
  4. Four out of five seniors said that government price setting would impact access to medicines and reduce choice and options.

At this point I took the opportunity to ask a few questions.

My first question was whether there were any increases or decreases in the satisfaction rates this year from prior years? Matt pointed out that often, when a program has high satisfaction rates, the rate begins to fall. This just hasn’t happened with Part D over the years. Satisfaction rates have stayed consistently high. I pointed out that the many choices in Part D plans have enabled seniors to choose a plan that fits them, which adds to their overall satisfaction.

I then asked Matt if seniors thought their plans were affordable or do they find it difficult to afford their coverage? He replied that nine out of ten seniors find their plans convenient and affordable. I mentioned that, with over 8% inflation, the premium price for Part D is projected to go down next year, which begs the question, why do politicians feel the need to fix something that’s not broken.

I next asked Matt if the survey gave any insight into why the satisfaction level has stayed so consistent? He replied that they didn’t specifically ask that question but there were some metrics they could look at. He said that seniors value that their doctors have options and choices and have access to the drugs they need. They don’t have to jump through hoops or have fail first requirements to satisfy. These all lead to maintaining a high satisfaction level. I pointed out that the VA formulary has about half the number of drugs on their formulary as Part D showing how broad the Part D coverage is.

Next, I asked Matt what most concerned seniors about government interference in Part D? He replied that he thought it had to do with access and their fear that the government would interfere with the doctor patient relationship. It also worried me that this new law would restrict innovation such that I might not have access to a drug that would have helped me because it wasn’t discovered due to the new law.

This led to the next question concerning how worried were seniors about the possible reduction in innovation? Matt replied that seniors were not only concerned about their access to medicines they have now but also equally concerned with the medicines they may not have in the future. 82% are concerned about access to newer prescription drugs and seven in ten were worried that government price setting would lead to less research and development. I pointed out that we are on the verge of many new discoveries, and it concerned me that the new law would hinder this research.

I then asked if there were any other options the government had concerning drug prices? Matt said they used a 1 to 10 scale to see how acceptable other drug pricing options were. These questions centered around,

  • keeping out-of-pocket costs low
  • increasing transparency
  • maintaining predictability

Keeping out-of-pocket costs low – Putting a cap on out-of-pocket costs scored 8.3, a very high score.

Increasing transparency – Garnered a score of 9.02, the highest of any option.

Maintaining predictability – The ability to spread their costs over the year so their costs were predictable scored 7.38, also a high score.

I talked a little about the new IRA legislation and the many implementation details that haven’t been defined, which means that we need to be vigilant in our understanding and advocacy. The devil is in the details and we can have a voice in eliminating the devil that hurts our access and affordability. Matt pointed out that the increased predictability will be extremely important given the impact high inflation is having on fixed income seniors.

I then thanked Matt and Morning Consult for their work and closed the event.

This yearly survey is very important in tracking how seniors feel about Medicare Part D. It is another way for Seniors to Speak out.

Best, Thair



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Do You Know Your Cholesterol Score?

This month is National Cholesterol Education Month which hopefully will turn our attention to learning how we can take some preventative steps toward lowering our risk of heart disease. We’ve heard a lot lately about vaccines . . . OK, maybe I was an author of a portion of the many informational diatribes on how important vaccines are. Probably the main point that I stressed was the fact that vaccines were a way to prevent illness. That same reasoning applies to your cholesterol score, it can give you an early warning to a possible heart disease risk and allow you to take some preventative measures to lower that risk.

A high cholesterol score is bad, doctors would like you to have a score of 200 or below but “normal ranges” are less important than your overall cardiovascular health. Your doctor will take into account your personal health and history and advise you if any steps need to be taken. Remember, over 102 million Americans have total cholesterol levels above healthy levels and 35 million have dangerous levels that put them at high risk for heart disease. It is worth taking the time to have your doctor test your cholesterol levels.

In the spirit of education, here is some information on cholesterol from the Medical West web site:

“Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in certain foods, such as from animals, like dairy products, eggs, and meat. The body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. However, too much cholesterol can increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease. There are several factors that contribute to high cholesterol — some are controllable while others are not. Some of the non-controllable factors include age (men above age 45 and women above age 55), gender (women are at higher risk after menopause), and a family history of high cholesterol. Controllable factors include eating a high fat diet, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise.”

Click here for a great 3-minute video that explains even more about cholesterol.

The next question we should ask is, who needs to get their cholesterol checked and how often?

  • Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years.
  • Some people, such as people who have heart disease or diabetes or who have a family history of high cholesterol, need to get their cholesterol checked more often.
  • Children and adolescents should have their cholesterol checked at least once between ages 9 and 11 and again between ages 17 and 21.
  • Talk to your healthcare team about your health history and how often you need to have your cholesterol checked.

There’s a lot of rumors and myths out there about high cholesterol. Here are some of the more prevalent myths:

  • Myth: I would be able to feel it if I had high cholesterol.
    • Fact: High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms.
  • Myth: Eating foods high in cholesterol won’t make my cholesterol levels go up.
    • Fact: We know that foods with a lot of cholesterol usually also have a lot of saturated fat which can make cholesterol numbers higher.
  • Myth: I can’t do anything to change my cholesterol levels.
    • Fact: Exercise, lifestyle changes and medicine can all work to lower your cholesterol score.
  • Myth: All cholesterol is bad for you.
    • Fact: Some types of cholesterol are essential for good health. LDL (low-density lipoprotein), sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke. HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or “good” cholesterol, carries cholesterol back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

We’ve seen some great strides in the discovery of medicines that can help lower our cholesterol score. A CDC website identifies five medicines that will help us lower our score. You can click here to find out more about these great medicines.

We’ve hopefully imparted some knowledge in the spirit of the National Cholesterol Education Month. For fun, click here to take a quiz that will test your smarts on cholesterol.

As with all my blogs there is always an action required. If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked in the last 5 years call you doctor and get it done. It’s one of those preventative things we can do that can truly change, or even save, our lives.

I want to remind you that we will have a Seniors Speak Out Facebook Live event with Matt Monday from Morning Consult and me this Thursday, September 15, at 2:00 PM ET where we will discuss how seniors feel about their Medicare Part D plans. Click on this link for more information. This discussion will focus on the yearly survey that the Healthcare Leadership Council has been taking since the inception of Medicare’s Part D Prescription Medicine program. This yearly survey helps me keep a finger on the pulse of the important people in this program . . . you, the program’s beneficiary. It should be an especially interesting discussion given the changes to Part D that have just been signed into law. Click here to find out more and how to join what looks to be a spirited discussion.

Best, Thair



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Making Medicare Advantage Even More Advantageous

In an effort to get input on how to improve Medicare’s Part C, better known as Medicare Advantage (MA), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued a Request for Information, (RFI) to get input from stake holders on improvements to this important part of Medicare. MA is the fastest growing option for those who are 65 and older, offering an option for a private insurance company to provide your healthcare.

The Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) is the sponsor for Seniors Speak Out and is in a unique position to offer insightful and balanced suggestions on how to improve MA. This unique position comes from the fact that HLC is a coalition of chief executives from all disciplines within American healthcare. Members of HLC – hospitals, academic health centers, health plans, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, laboratories, biotech firms, health product distributors, post-acute care providers, home care providers, and information technology companies – advocate for measures to increase the quality and efficiency of healthcare through a patient-centered approach. This broad membership ensures this balanced approach to the suggestions for improving MA.

While the suggestions offered by HLC covered many aspects of MA, I want to highlight a few that I feel are very important improvements to MA.

Telehealth – While it is difficult to think there was anything good that came out of the pandemic, there was at least one silver lining. The use of telehealth was slowly growing prior to the pandemic and then we were suddenly thrust into the directed isolation of this deadly virus, which was especially dangerous for older people. The very people who historically require more healthcare services were advised to limit their exposure to other people, especially doctor’s offices and hospitals. These healthcare providers were suddenly asked to find alternative ways to treat their patients. Another silver lining of COVID-19 was the crash course seniors went through to learn how to use Zoom and other virtual platforms, since it was often the only way they could see the faces of their loved ones. It shortened the learning curve on using this new technology and enabled doctors to both talk and see their patients, a definite plus in the evaluation of their patient’s condition. Using emergency powers, the administration enabled Medicare to pay for these remote services by waiving certain payment restrictions. It is important now that those payment restrictions be extended and permanent payment options be studied and instituted. For example, studies have shown that Virtual care during the pandemic reduced patients’ risk of overdose and boosted the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, the CDC, CMS, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found in a new study out in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers examined data from more than 175,000 Medicare beneficiaries between September 2018 and February 2021. They found that during the pandemic, receiving opioid-use treatment via telehealth was linked to better retention for medication-assisted treatment and a lower risk of medically treated overdose compared to people who didn’t receive opioid use services via telehealth. This specific example shows that telehealth can be very effective. The best practices gleaned from the COVID-19 experience should allow us to reap the savings and efficiencies of providing remote healthcare.

Broadband Access – The pandemic emphasized the need for broadband access and accelerated the upgrading of internet access. Access to a high-speed internet connection has reduced the barriers for those who live in rural areas, reduced the problem of transportation, and even increased the equitable application of healthcare. As states imposed stay-at-home orders, consumers required alternative sources to remain connected with healthcare professionals so they could continue to receive important care – this was particularly critical for people with chronic conditions, who required access to consistent, continuous care to manage their overall health. Additionally, many home digital health products offered today work most effectively with a sufficient and sustained connection. As the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included provisions to advance digital connectivity, CMS should continue to partner with agencies such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communication Commission to better target communities in need and work to reduce existing health disparities. CMS needs to pursue options that increase Medicare beneficiaries’ connection to, and use of, digital tools, such as supporting cellular devices programs and incorporating digital literacy.

Data Interoperability – The ability for different computer systems to communicate with each other is extremely important when it comes to healthcare. There are many initiatives, like the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Exchange, that support a common baseline for quickly sharing information among stakeholders while ensuring that healthcare information receives robust privacy and security protections. We all fill out many forms during our visit to different healthcare providers, many times entering the same information over and over. Some of this duplicity is due to the inability of different information systems to share a common standard which would ensure the quick and accurate sharing of information. I have personally advocated for years for the establishment of a standard and secure way to share information. It is imperative that we consider the needs of healthcare stakeholders to ensure a smooth and successful transition to an efficient secure standard.

The improvements detailed above are a few of the improvements mentioned in the HLC letter but I feel they are key in turning the silver linings that came from the COVID-19 pandemic into permanent improvements in the MA program. It’s an opportunity for improvement that we can’t let slip away.

Best, Thair



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A Balancing Act That’s Important to Your Health

I read an article recently that made me jump out of my chair . . . no it wasn’t a notice that I won the Master’s lottery and would be going to Augusta to watch the golf tournament next year. It was an article about a recent study that said if you can balance on one leg for 10 seconds it’s an indicator of your overall health. So, before you jump up, here’s a picture of how you stand to take this simple test. I tried it immediately, both with and without shoes, it didn’t seem to make a difference. I did find that I did better if I stood on my dominant foot. I’m right footed, but you are allowed to use either leg. You can take three tries to successfully complete the test. The thing that really grabbed my attention was the statement that, “The inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds might indicate an increase in the risk of death within the next decade.” Now that seems like an ominous prediction for a simple test but the study (click here to read about the study in more detail) seemed thorough and legitimate. The fact does remain that as we age, our flexibility and balance diminish. Balance begins to be more difficult beginning in our 50s and can quickly go downhill. According to the World Health Organization problems with balance increase the risk of falling, which is troubling as falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide. More than 37 million falls are severe enough to require medical attention each year.

Now I’m a few years past 50, OK, I’m a few years past 70, but I have never had a balance check at any of my physicals. I’ve pressed my hands and legs against the opposing pressure from the doctor and the doctor has tested the strength of my grip, both important tests of physical health, but no one has tested my balance. The authors of this balance study recommend that this balance test be included when the doctor evaluates the overall health of a patient over 50.

I will reveal that I passed the test but found it harder than I thought it would be. I guess this goes along with the realization that I don’t get up off the ground as easily as I used to and my wife’s insistence that I don’t go up more than three rungs on ladders. I’ve also lost distance on my drives when I golf. My son says that it’s because my core strength isn’t as strong as it used to be. In doing some further research I found that core strength is directly related to balance, the stronger the core, the better the balance. For me, taking a little more time to get up off the floor, or not climbing too high on a ladder are not big problems, but when I lose distance when driving a golf ball – now you have my attention. If strengthening my core muscles will increase my driver distance and, as an added bonus, keep me from falling, then sign me up. My next question is how do you do it?

A little more research and advice from my son pointed me toward doing “planks.” I didn’t do those in high school gym class but evidently, they are the way to strengthen your core muscles. A plank is a simple, but effective core exercise that helps you build stability and strength throughout your entire body. The plank is achievable in a number of different ways, but the main position of the plank exercise is with your body perpendicular to the ground, stomach facing down, elevating your torso off the ground with either your elbows or hands. This will position you as if you were stuck in an extended push-up pose without actually moving your body weight up or down. This may sound much nicer and more forgiving than a set of push-ups, but the plank can become a strenuous exercise very quickly as you continue to hold that position. You can go online and find a multitude of different types of planks. An excellent article I found talked about how the plank helps build core strength, the benefits of doing them and some variations that can further build strength. You can find that article here.

As mentioned above, the exercise can become very strenuous and may not be the best way to exercise our core muscles as we grow older. Luckily there are other ways to build these muscles that will fit all levels of mobility. Remember, the goal here is to improve your core muscles and therefore your balance. It doesn’t matter where on the range of muscle strength we start, it only matters that we do something that makes our core muscles stronger.

I found a place that offers some great non-plank core muscle exercises for older adults. It’s on the SilverSneakers web site. Click here for these non-plank exercises. These are great exercises that help you improve no matter where you start on the strength spectrum.

One of the great things about all these exercises is that they don’t require special equipment or a membership to a gym. They just require some time and effort. It will be time well spent. Whether you passed the 10 second test or not, it’s worth doing the exercises just to improve your balance. How many times have you heard that an older person fell and broke their hip and died a short time later. It happened just like that with my mother in-law. Maintaining your balance is a great way to keep yourself healthy and it might even help your golf game.

Best, Thair



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An Ounce (or so) of Vaccine Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

As we have gone through the COVID pandemic I think we’ve all learned a lot more about the workings of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We found out about accelerated approvals and the FDA advisory committee meetings, especially when they dealt with the controversy involved with the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm. The FDA uses advisory committees to give them scientific and third-party input on drug approvals. They also give stake holders the opportunity to participate in public written, and in person, testimony. I have testified multiple times at these advisory committee meetings as I advocated for older Americans.

The CDC also has an advisory committee for immunization decisions. The CDC describes this group as follows:

“The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) comprises medical and public health experts who develop recommendations on the use of vaccines in the civilian population of the United States. The recommendations stand as public health guidance for safe use of vaccines and related biological products”.

As you know I have often written about the importance of keeping up to date on our vaccinations . . . more and more of our preventative medication and treatments for illnesses come to us through immunizations. I’ve written often about the impact that the pandemic had on causing some of us to postpone these important preventative measures. I continue to stay involved in the CDC’s recommendations for immunizations and was selected recently to give a three-minute public testimony at the ACIP meeting held on June 23rd. While the subject of the meeting dealt with what guidance the CDC should recommend for COVID boosters, my comments were tailored to urge the CDC to expand their focus to include renewed recommendations on other preventative vaccinations. Below is my testimony.

Thank you for having me, I’m Thair Phillips of Seniors Speak Out.

I want to start by thanking this committee for your continued diligence toward ensuring vaccines are available for Americans throughout our lifespan. As many of us are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we were particularly grateful for the recent approval of the COVID vaccines for the youngest children.

As you know, older Americans can benefit greatly from vaccines as we are more likely to be managing chronic conditions and a weakening immune system. As we learned early on in the pandemic, COVID-19 posed a greater threat to older Americans than any other age group. In fact, grim statistics recently released by the Associated Press showed that 3 out of 4 COVID deaths were older Americans which further illustrated this very real threat.

Despite entering into year three of this pandemic, our generation has not lost our resolve in fighting back against this virus and has embraced the vaccine more than any other age group with 95 percent of Americans over 65 having received at least one dose.

With that in mind, it is particularly important to those of us who serve older Americans to continue our work to keep their vaccination rates high, and for the COVID vaccine—added booster doses if necessary.

Now that we as a country are able to vaccinate to prevent or mitigate COVID from the very young to the very old, we should remain steadfast in our efforts to keep COVID boosters at the front of older Americans’ minds.

To that end, the work of ACIP will be critically important in the months to come, so that groups like ours can help encourage our fellow Americans to remain up to date on boosters, as well as being vaccinated for other respiratory illnesses like the flu and pneumonia.

As you know, vaccination rates pre-pandemic were not ideal. The pandemic squashed those routine vaccination numbers even further. COVID vaccinations were somewhat of a bright spot, with older Americans lining up. Let’s build on that. Let’s continue to work together to benefit this important community and ensure that they are informed and most importantly protected against COVID-19 and other preventable diseases.

Thank you.

I am encouraged by the movement to include our yearly flu shot with the next COVID booster if that becomes available. Anything that reduces the number of trips we make to the pharmacy, doctor or other healthcare provider will increase the number of people who take advantage of the vaccines that are available to us.

There has been a silver lining to the pandemic that we need to build on. The scientific push that produced our COVID vaccine in record time was based on a new form of cell level signaling that could be the pathway to breakthroughs in other disease areas. We could find vaccines that help prevent, treat and even cure diseases based on this new science. We need to encourage and embrace this expansion in the use of vaccines.

I’ve found it interesting that we are quick to accept a new pill, ointment or liquid that is discovered but some of us have been hesitant about a new vaccine. Older Americans need to continue to lead on being vaccinated, not only against COVID but for the other preventative vaccines that are now or will come available. As we get older our bodies may become a little less able to fight off illnesses, but we can continue to be resolute in our march toward doing everything we can to keep ourselves healthy.

I hope the CDC recognizes the importance of building on our willingness to take preventative measures by expanding and clarifying their immunization recommendations.

Best, Thair



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Summertime and the Living is Easy

George Gershwin had a way with words and there are no words more recognizable than the title of this blog . . . at least to those of us who are over 60 or someone who has listened to one of the more than 25,000 recordings that have been made of that song. But the real question remains, is the living really easier in the summer?

For those who have weathered a long winter of shoveling snow or driving on slick streets, summertime is a welcome relief. For all of us it’s a time to enjoy the warm weather and the promise of a vacation, especially given many of us have been robbed of our vacations over the last two years. It’s a time to come out from the shadow of the pandemic and begin to again live our lives unencumbered by a virus.

So, what do we do this summer to make the living easy? One thing you might think about is trying some new recipes. As we found ourselves eating at home more often due to the pandemic, we may have found that we got tired of the same old things. Some of us may have tried out the new cooking appliance, the air fryer. I’ve found it’s a great way to fry food without the mess of hot oil and it’s much healthier. If any of the eight air fryer meals below look interesting, you can get the recipes by clicking here.          

  • Breakfast
  • Hard “Boiled” Eggs
  • Roasted Tomatoes
  • Crispy Tofu
  • Roasted Fish
  • Snack Chips
  • Leftovers
  • Desserts


You also might have found some new ways to stay physically fit. Pickleball has caught on with the older crowd. The increasingly popular paddle sport, which has similarities to tennis and ping pong, has attracted 4.8 million U.S. players of all ages and fitness levels, according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) report on pickleball. It doesn’t require an excess of running but keeps the participants moving and, most importantly, it gives us a reason to get out and get some exercise. I have friends who play almost every day, they all say it beats trying to force yourself to go to the gym and workout. Older adults are especially drawn to the fun sport: The SFIA report notes that among the 1.4 million “core” participants — defined as those who play at least eight times a year — 60 percent are 55 or older and more than 33.7 percent are 65 or older. Older people enjoy this sport because:

  • The court is small enough that you don’t need to move much to hit the ball, especially if you’re playing doubles.
  • The game encourages players to socialize.
  • There’s less of the frustration factor that accompanies sports like golf.
  • It’s designed to be carefree and fun.
  • It’s inexpensive.


The great thing about this sport is it’s readily accessible. You can input your zip code on the USA Pickleball Association website to find out where to play near you. 

Finally, it seems we’ve found a sport, besides golf, that older people can play, and it no doubt is better exercise than riding around in a golf cart. You’re hearing this from a guy who loves to play golf but is going to give pickleball a try this summer.

Volunteering is another activity that you might find very rewarding. Helping someone else gets us out of looking inward at our own problems and allows us to focus on others. There is nothing more satisfying than giving of your time and skills to help someone else. Below are five non-profits that accept and need volunteers. Just click on their name to find out more about their organization.


I hope you can find something new and exciting to challenge yourself this summer and you do it while also keeping yourself healthy and safe. I’ve written past blogs about taking care of your skin and your eyes and your joints as you venture outdoors this summer. Do a quick search of my blogs if you need some good guidance in these areas. One little hint, you might take some time to do a little training before you venture out on your vacation. I just spent a week walking around and touring Boston and I found out pretty quickly that I wasn’t as ready for that much walking as I thought.

Finally, while we’re looking forward to this summer it’s not too early to start looking at Medicare open enrollment coming up this year. I’ve been working hard these last few months to catch up on the preventative screenings and checkups that I put off because of COVID-19 (don’t you hate the preparation required for the colonoscopy). Keep track of any health changes that have occurred this year so you can make an informed decision as you review your insurance coverage. Especially keep track of any new prescription medication you may now be taking.

Above all, get out this summer and try something new, and also try to get that George Gershwin song out of your head. I haven’t succeeded yet.

Best, Thair



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What’s So Special About the Summer Solstice – the Longest Day

Tomorrow is the official start of summer but, more importantly, it is the longest day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere. It’s the day with the most light and it has a very special meaning for those who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s.

This month is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month and June 21st, the summer solstice, is a special day for those who advocate and support the fight against Alzheimer’s; it is labeled “The Day With the Most Light Is the Day We Fight”. This day was chosen to refine the focus on the fight against Alzheimer’s to a specific day.

Usually, I include some statistics about the disease that I’m writing about in my blog. I do that to highlight and educate you about the impact that disease has on our lives. Unfortunately, I really don’t have to do that with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, because almost without exception Alzheimer’s or dementia has affected each one of us in some way. Let me tell you about how it has affected me.

I spent over eight years in the Air Force with most of my time as part of a crew in a B-52. Downstairs in a B-52 is where the bombardier and the navigator sit, no windows just radar sets and low light/infrared screens to keep us entertained. That’s where I spent my time. I flew a large part of my 2,000 hours in the B-52 with a man who became a lifelong friend. He was one of six Air Force friends and their wives who have continued to get together every two years for 46 years. He died a little over two years ago from Louie Body Dementia. Louie Body Dementia is an aggressive form of dementia, but it is just one of many different types of this terrible disease. I will use the term Alzheimer’s in this blog since it is the most common type of dementia, but I will use it to also include all of the types of dementia. As is the case with Alzheimer’s you lose the loved one you knew long before their death. It was so hard as I visited, vacationed, and cared for my friend after he was diagnosed because I saw the man I knew and loved slowly disappear. We had to continually say that it was Louie talking and acting rather than the man we knew before. It was especially hard on his wife and family. I suspect that many of you have your own experiences that you could talk about.

As I’ve advocated over the years for more Alzheimer’s research, I’ve often pointed out that Alzheimer’s costs us 300 billion dollars each year with the cost rising each year. This always seemed like such a strong argument for expanded research. After my experience with my Air Force friend the money part, while it remains very important, dimmed somewhat in relationship to the impact on the lives of those who care for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s. The mental, financial, and physical impact of this disease on those around the patient is huge. I don’t think there is any better way for us to spend our time and resources than searching for a cure.

Discoveries of new treatments for Alzheimer’s have been rare, almost non-existent. There have been many promising medicines that have been tested and failed, some of the failures coming at the very end of the clinical trials. It has been heartbreaking to those impacted by Alzheimer’s to have hope and then be disappointed. Just last year a drug was approved that offered some hope. The cost was substantial and, even though the cost was ultimately cut in half, CMS decided that it would only be available to people who participated in clinical trials. While there are many people and organizations on both sides of the question of who should get access to this medicine, the fact of the matter is the hope of a treatment for Alzheimer’s was again dimmed. Just recently a promising drug, named crenezumab, failed in a trial that had been going for 10 years. Once again, the hope for an Alzheimer’s treatment has been dashed, to say nothing of the cost of a 10-year trial. It’s time we take action.

We’ve had government programs that used the “moon shot” moniker to focus commitment and funding. We’ve shown that we can develop vaccines at breakneck speeds when our backs are against the wall. These are all important efforts. I think it’s time we recognize the impact on not only those who suffer from Alzheimer’s but also to the loved ones and care givers by marshaling are personal and government resources to conquer this disease.

As noted above, this is the month and today is the day that we focus on advocating for more research and helping those affected by Alzheimer’s. You can find out what activities are going on in your community during “The Day With the Most Light Is the Day We Fight” project by clicking this link. Get involved, do it for that someone in your life who has been affected by Alzheimer’s.

Best, Thair



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Men’s Health Week – A Time to Focus on the Men In Our Lives

This week is Men’s Health Week and, at the risk of going against our push for inclusion, I’m going to eliminate approximately half of our population in this week’s blog and focus on men, and, specifically, older men.

There’s a good reason for this focus. Because of poor health habits, lack of health insurance, failure to seek medical attention, and dangerous occupations, men live sicker and die younger than women. Men die at higher rates for 9 of the top 10 causes of death. This includes deaths from cancer, diabetes, suicide, and accidents, and diseases of the heart, kidney, and liver. Men account for over 90% of workplace fatalities, are far less likely than women to have health insurance and are half as likely to see a doctor for preventive care. When men get sick it affects those around them, the loss of their income to the family often has serious consequences. I’ve talked with many older widowed women at seminars and health fairs about the impact on her life when her husband died. Often there is a loss of retirement income to say nothing about the loneliness that ensues. According to the Census Bureau there are 105 males born for every 100 females, but by age 34 there are more women than men. According to the United States Census Bureau (2000), the ratio of men to women in the early retirement years (age group 65-69) reduces to 85 men per 100 women. According to the Administration on Aging (2001), more than half of the elderly widows now living in poverty were not poor before the death of their husbands. Poor health and the early death of men impacts their families and loved ones. The good news is that the cause for this disparity is not unchangeable.

In my generation, and historically, men have been the primary bread winner, while women were focused on the family, which included the health of the family. This begins to explain some of the health disparity between men and women. I’ve worked with the Men’s Health Network for many years, participating on panels and working with them on common issues. They are a national non-profit organization whose mission is to reach men and their families with health awareness messages where they live, work, pray, and play. They’ve done many health fairs with professional sports teams, businesses, and religious organizations where they did screenings and offered health information for men. They found that the way to get men to attend these health fairs was to go through their wives. It was the wife who convinced her husband to attend the fair, do the screenings and get the helpful health information. Men, and I speak from experience here, are very good at ignoring their own bodies’ health signals, not scheduling or postponing checkups, and generally not taking care of themselves.

The pandemic continued to show this disparity. Over 65,000 more men than women have died from COVID-19. Now I’m a big fan of individual responsibility and taking care of your own health falls under that heading, but men are absolutely influenced by loved ones, family and friends who are important in supporting them to take action toward better health. Darrell Sabbs, a community health advocate in southwest Georgia, emphasized that, “Today we see men come in with more advanced diseases simply because they lost trust in, and access to, healthcare during the pandemic. What we are doing now is celebrating a return to normal where hopefully men and their families will take on a deeper concern for their health.” He also noted, “Trusted voices had to be found, and they were found in our communities and churches.”

I was intrigued by Mr. Sabbs saying that men lost trust in, and access to, healthcare during the pandemic. What we didn’t need was another reason for men to ignore their health but I’m afraid that some of the vaccine hesitancy during the pandemic was uncharacteristically fueled by men and a growing distrust in government agencies. I’m sure this, along with the other noted reasons, was the basis for disparity between men’s and women’s deaths in the pandemic.

 So, here comes the action portion of my blog. What can we do? One thing we can do is observe Wear BLUE Day. Wear BLUE Day is observed on the Friday of National Men’s Health Week, which is this Friday and just happens to be the Friday before Father’s Day. It is a great time to raise awareness and educate everyone about encouraging men to seek regular checkups, to get educated on testicular and prostate cancer along with other health issues that affect men (cardiovascular disease, skin cancer, lung cancer, diabetes, gout, and more.) Hopefully, wearing a blue ribbon will trigger conversations about men’s health.

There is something else you can do, if you have a friend, husband, or a family member who hasn’t taken the steps to keep himself healthy, find a voice that he trusts to discuss the steps to a healthier life. If that trusted voice is yours, fine, if it’s a close friend, a relative or a church leader, get them to have a serious talk with the man in question. Encourage the trusted voice to emphasize how important your man’s health is to those around him. To remind him about the joy he will have when he is able to actively participate in, and be present at, important events with his children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. A trusted voice can make a huge difference in a man’s life.

Men’s Health Week is an ideal time to focus on improving the health of those men in our lives who are so important to us.

Best, Thair



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Recap – Facebook Live Event with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

Last Wednesday, we held a Facebook live event in recognition of National Cancer Survivor Month and invited a special guest, Pam Traxel, Senior Vice President of Alliance Development and Philanthropy at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN), to talk about cancer prevention, screening, treatment, the importance of clinical trial diversity, and the need to protect cancer treatment research and development. You can click here to watch the entire half hour event.

I started the event with a few remarks about the impact cancer has on each of our lives. I pointed out that there are an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors alive today, but, in 2022 in the U.S., there will be an estimated 1.92 million new cancer cases and 609,360 cancer deaths. These statistics highlight the importance of screening and other methods for early detection and prevention.

As is my habit I took a few moments at the beginning of the event to talk about some important issues that are threatening our healthcare, starting with a proposal that has once again been put forth to allow the government to set the price of prescription drugs. As we progress toward personalized healthcare, the reduction of options available to doctors is not the path we should be taking. Thrusting the government into this process would reduce the number of options available. I emphasized that no patient should face even the possibility of having fewer treatments or therapies available when undergoing cancer treatment.

I also pointed out that Senator Bernie Sanders may introduce an amendment in an unrelated piece of legislation to allow drugs to be imported from Canada. This is an unsafe and unworkable solution that will do very little to reduce the price of drugs for you and me. With that I turned the time over to Pam Traxel.

Pam began by pointing out that Cancer Action Network is the public policy arm of the American Cancer Society and that working to shape public policy concerning cancer patients has made a difference. She went on to point out that they advocate for the entire cancer continuum from screening and early detection to treatment and survivorship across all types of cancer.

Her first point was how important screening and early detection are and noted the important role that health coverage plays in getting screened.  ACSCAN is working to encourage Congress to extend and make permanent the subsidies in the American Rescue Plan for health coverage in the exchanges. They are also working to encourage states that have not chosen to expand Medicaid to do so, given that those states that have chosen to expand have seen a huge increase in cancer screening participation. The final area she focused on was encouraging Congress to implement a yearly cap on out-of-pocket Medicare prescription drug costs.

Pam also discussed the importance of states ensuring access to bio marker testing. She emphasized how important it is that our elected officials hear from us and where we stand on these important issues.

I then asked Pam a few questions, the first one concerned how seniors can prevent cancer and detect it early. Pam pointed out that living a healthy lifestyle is important and taking advantage of different screenings will help detect cancer early. She gave out a great link to information that will give us healthy lifestyle hints and the screenings available depending on our age. She emphasized that the best way to survive cancer is to detect it early. She knows that the pandemic has caused many of us to delay our screenings, and I admitted I was one that had delayed some screenings. She implored us to talk with the doctor about where we stood on our screenings and what do we need to do to get current.

In response to a question on the biggest advances she has seen in cancer research and treatment innovation, Pam noted the ability to target cancer more closely and for medicines to go directly to the cancer cells and kill them is very encouraging. Through the use of bio markers and unimpaired access to new medicines we have a much better chance to survive cancer. She also said that there are many new developments in ways to detect cancer early that is lifesaving.

Pam pointed out that ACSCAN is pushing for the passage of the Diverse Trials Act, a bipartisan, bicameral piece of legislation. This bill would help people who are participating in clinical trials with their ancillary costs, removing some of the barriers that exist for clinical trial participation. Pam also pointed out that in cancer clinical trials half of the participants receive the normal cancer treatment and half receive the new drug, as opposed to other trials where half get a placebo and half get the new drug. This removes another barrier to trial participation.

I then asked about the impact of screenings and early detection. Pam discussed the fact that early screening and detection along with a significant increase in the number of drugs and therapies available has made a huge difference in cancer survivability in the last decade. She pointed out how important innovation is in the fight against cancer. New drugs mean new options which means more lives saved. This led to my final question of what would happen if we limited innovation and produced fewer drugs to fight cancer. Her answer was simple – cancer will kill you if there is no intervention, and the tools that are used to fight cancer are prescription drugs. If we have fewer drugs, we have fewer tools to fight cancer and save lives.

To sum up our conversation, there are three main points:

  • Early detection through screenings and healthy living will have a huge impact on surviving cancer
  • Government intervention in our healthcare will obstruct innovation with little reduction in out-of-pocket costs for the patient
  • Your voice in speaking out to your elected officials can and will make a difference

I hope you enjoyed this Facebook live event; you can see the entire video here. We look forward to your participation at our next Facebook live event.

Best, Thair



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Two Threats to Our Medicare Prescription Drug Program

There are two threats to prescription drug accessibility and innovation that are once again threatening your health. These are not new threats, but they continue to be thrust forward as politically popular “solutions” to help reduce drug prices. These two threats are government “negotiation” and foreign importation. Inserting the government into the drug pricing equation through so called negotiations was mentioned in the President’s State of the Union speech. Importing drugs from foreign countries is not a new approach but it has recently been raised as a possible amendment to be added to proposed legislation. Before I discuss these two approaches in more detail, I’d like to remind you of some important facts concerning drug prices.

In 2021, the list price of drugs, the price that many of the patient’s out-of-pocket costs are based on, rose less than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which measures inflation. There are many parts of our healthcare system that rose more than the CPI, but not the list price of drugs. Even more relevant is the fact that the net price of drugs, the amount the drug manufacturer actually receives, dropped by 1.2% in 2021. That’s right, the net price dropped! This is the 4th year that the net price has dropped. If the drug companies were trying to raise prices so they would get paid more each year, they have failed miserably. In these days of 8% inflation, it seems crazy to increase government regulations on an industry where their net prices have dropped. Given this backdrop I’d like to discuss these two drug pricing proposals.  

The proposed insertion of the government into the Medicare prescription drug program, Part D, would involve repealing the non-interference clause in Part D and allow the government to get involved in setting the price of selected drugs. The government would calculate what they considered a fair price to be for a particular drug and present that to the manufacturer. If a manufacturer was not willing to accept the price the government calculated, they would be charged anywhere from 65% to 95% of their gross sales to continue to sell the drug in the U.S. No drug manufacturer could continue to sell their product if they had to pay 65% of their gross sales to the government. This is not a negotiation but a take it or leave it ultimatum which reduces the so-called negotiations to simply price fixing. History has shown that government price fixing never works.

Foreign importation of prescription drugs has thrust itself into the limelight because of a proposal put forth by Senator Bernie Sanders to include this sweeping change to Medicare Part D into the FDA user fee “must pass” legislation. I’ve talked about this “solution” to drug prices in previous blogs, explaining how it bypasses the safety net we now enjoy without any proof that the patient will see any savings while counting on Canada to implement a program that they have already said they can’t support. Because of the variation in foreign government laws and control of healthcare prices the price of prescription drugs can vary between different countries. While you or someone you know may have gone across either our southern or northern boarders to purchase medicine at a lower price, this is not what this proposal is about. This importation proposal is at a much higher-level involving suppliers and transporters and large volumes. Some states have passed laws allowing importation but none of them have yet been implemented. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, our government’s accountants, have studied this approach and said, “Even if this practice was made legal, however, unique aspects of the prescription drug market would limit the additional volume of prescription drugs reaching the United States. On the basis of its evaluation of recent proposals, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has concluded that the reduction in drug spending from importation would be small”. There have also been legal challenges asserting that the government can’t legally implement this proposal. In spite of the facts that the safety we now enjoy through FDA-approved drugs would be compromised, that Canada has said they won’t support importation, that any savings would be small, and that this idea may not even be lawful, Senator Sanders has chosen to ignore these facts and has proposed implementing this change in some must-pass legislation. Which brings me to what I think could be the worst part of this whole situation.

Adding this huge change to Medicare Part D as an amendment to User Fee legislation bypasses the discussion and debate that this huge change deserves. It’s an attempt to sneak this change into an unrelated piece of legislation which eliminates the chance for members of Congress to review the facts, for hearings to take place, and for stake holders to offer their input. It even bypasses the judicial branch from reviewing its legality. It’s not the way we should be doing the people’s business. This big of a change to our Medicare prescription drug program should be out in the open, analyzed and debated. I’m tired of politically expedient proposals that do nothing to make our healthcare better but will look good in some election ads and speeches. These proposed changes will affect real people for a long time, Congress should take the time to hear from the people these changes affect.

On that note I encourage you to write or call your members of Congress and tell them you want real solutions, not changes that need to be snuck in as an amendment to unrelated, must-pass legislation.

I also urge you to tune in on June 1 to our Facebook Live event where I will talk with Pam Traxel who leads the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society. I’m sure some of the above issues will be discussed. You can tune in for the event by clicking here on Wednesday.

Best, Thair