How the Election Impacts Social Security

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 24, 2016

On the final night of the Republican National Convention (RNC) an average of 32 million Americans tuned in to watch Donald J. Trump, a New York Real Estate Developer, author, television personality and now politician, formally accepted the GOP nomination for President of the United States.

After he delivered his July 21 speech, reporters, political commentators, and even postings trending on twitter called Trump’s hour and 15 minute speech (4,400 words) “dark” because of its stark tone and content. This GOP presidential candidate’s speech was even referred to as being the longest acceptance speech in history since 1972.

Before more than 2,400 delegates Trump, 70, pledged to be the nation’s law and order president who would crack down on crime and violence. America first would be Trump’s mantra during the negotiation of international trade deals and the existing NAFTA trade accord would be renegotiated.

Trump also called for defending the nation’s borders against illegal immigrants and giving parents more choice in choosing schools for their children. And to the forgotten men and woman across the country who were laid-off because of President Obama’s mishandling of the economy Trump promised to be their voice. Syrian refugees would be vetted and only those individuals who “will support our values and love our people” will be admitted, he said.

Trump Ignores Social Security in Speech

Aging advocates say that Trump’s acceptance speech was short on details when it can to domestic policy, specifically Social Security and Medicare. But, you won’t need tea leaves to read how a future Trump Administration will change the way the nation supports its retirees. .

According to Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the choice of Governor Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate should send “a very clear message to America’s seniors that their priorities will hold little weight in a Trump administration.” While Trump has promised on the campaign trail that he won’t cut Social Security and Medicare.

During his 12 years serving as a U.S. Congressman, Pence consistently voted in favor of GOP legislative efforts to cut benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, says Richtman, charging that Trump’s vice presidential running mate is one of a few Congressional lawmakers that has a strong “anti-seniors voting record.”

Richtman says that “Mike Pence was one of Congress’ biggest proponents of privatization. He supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, reducing the COLA, means-testing and turning Medicare into “CouponCare.” As he told CNN, ‘I’m an all of the above guy. I think we need to look at everything that’s on the menu,’ and the record shows he has done just that by supporting every form of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cut proposed in the past decade.”

While Trump has promised not to cut Social Security benefits on his year-long campaign trail, he continues to surround himself with advisors who are “polar opposite” of his positions says Richtman. “They say actions speak louder than words — Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential running mate will speak volumes to American seniors,” he adds.

Political Experts Weigh in

Darrell M. West, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, says that “Trump is on record as saying he does not want to cut Social Security so that is considerably different from most Republican leaders, who support benefit reductions as a way to balance its books. This probably is the reason the [GOP] platform is vague on Social Security. The party could not reconcile Trump’s view on not cutting benefits with the party’s general view that cuts are needed. That left them with a reference to market solutions without explaining what that meant.”

“Party leaders have said they want to raise the retirement age for people under age 50. That issue certainly would be on the issue in a Trump presidency although it is not clear how he views that issue. But there would be significant support in a GOP-run Congress for doing that and cutting the benefits of future retirees,” adds West.

West believes that “Democrats have a very good chance of recapturing control of the Senate. If that happens, that will allow them to block benefit reductions or raising the retirement age, he says.

Wendy Schiller, professor and chair, Department of Political Science at Brown University, warns that talking about changing Social Security can be risky and this “involves a depth of knowledge about entitlement financing that eludes most political candidates especially those without any political experience.”

The Brown professor of politics does not see Trump tackling this issue in any meaningful way in the campaign and she does not believe it will be a priority for him or the GOP if he wins. “Recall George W. Bush tried to reform Social Security immediately after he won reelection in 2004 – by late January 2005 it was dead on arrival in Congress,” she says.

“Overall I am not sure the GOP leadership in the Congress has fully processed what a Trump presidency would look like in terms of policy or what his priorities might be. It is unclear to me that they will align closely and getting anything through Congress these days is nearly impossible, no matter who sits in the Oval Office,” she adds.

Stark Differences in Platforms to Fix Social Security

On Friday, the released Democratic Platform released reveal a stark difference as how to the Democratic and Republican parties will fix the ailing Social Security program. The GOP platform. Although current retirees and those close to retirement will receive their benefits, changes are looming with a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. For younger generations all benefit cut options to be put on the table, opposing the lifting of the payroll tax cap and sees privatization of Social Security as a way for older American’s to create wealth for use in retirement. On the other hand, the Democratic Party platform calls for a strengthening and expansion of the existing Social Security program. The Democrats oppose any attempts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, and calls for lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula.

NCPSSM’s Richtman notes “ It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years — providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.”

As AARP’s John Hishta noted in his July 22 blog, even though the “political spotlight was not on Social Security” at the RNC in Cleveland, delegates, rank-and-file politicians and even political operatives that he talked with clearly understand the programs importance to retirees and younger generations.

“If political leaders fail to act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 a year. All beneficiaries could face a nearly 25 percent cut in their benefit,” warns Hishta. .

Hishta tells his blog readers that “AARP’s Take a Stand campaign left the RNC with renewed determination to make updating Social Security a bigger part of the presidential debate.” He pledges to continue pushing for strengthening and expanding the nation’s Social Security program at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and until the November presidential elections.

To keep informed about Social Security discussion during this presidential campaign go to http://takeastand.aarp.org/,

Revelations Bring Together Heaven, Earth

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 17, 2016

Approaching their twilight years, aging baby boomers might occasionally think about their impending mortality, even contemplating what happens after their last breath is taken, wondering what lies beyond the veil. But a growing number of people who have reported Near Death Experiences (NDE) may just shed some light to this age old question.

Although some people, diagnosed clinically dead, come back to life after being revived with no conscious memory of this experience, others experiencing a NDE report vivid, personal memories of their out-of-body trip across the veil. During this spiritual experience the person may meet dead family, friends and even their spiritual teacher, see a white light or travel through a tunnel.

Critics of NDE may try to explain away this experience as being the result of psychological and physiological causes, but those who come back with their direct knowledge of the afterlife don’t buy these explanations.

Dozens of books have been published, many being listed on the New York Times best sellers list, detailing the author’s clinical death and NDE, they strongly believe as evidence of an afterlife.

One book, published by Rodale Books in 2015, details what Tommy Rosa, a Bronx-born plumber learned in 1999 about health and healing during his NDE and coming back to life. Rosa’s chance meeting at a conference with Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist and psychotherapist, seen on “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors,” would lead to the publishing of a 247 page book, Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth.

One such book, published by Rodale Books in 2015, details what Tommy Rosa, a Bronx-born plumber learned in 1999 about health and healing during his NDE and coming back to life. Rosa’s chance meeting at a conference with Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist and psychotherapist, seen on “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors,” would lead to the publishing of a 247 page book, Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth.

A reading of this book reveals two very different approaches at looking at health, one gleaned from a spiritual experience and the other by scientific training, but both lead to the same set of conclusions. The tome offers eight health revelations (being connected with others, faithfulness, your vital force, grounding, being positive, self-love, seeing your body as a temple, and life’s purpose) geared to helping you live your best, healthiest life, revitalize yourself and embrace a new found sense of purpose and spiritual balance — gleaned from Rosa’s experience and fully corroborated by four decades of medical expertise and other scientific evidence by Dr. Sinatra, who practices in St. Petersburg, Florida, Manchester, Connecticut.

Rosa believes experiences described in his book are different from other NDE books published. His eight revelations can be applicable in the reader’s daily life.

To date, Rosa has promoted his book and his heavenly revelations in newspapers, radio and television. Over 20,000 copies of his book have been sold.

Peeking Over the Veil

Eighteen years ago, Rosa was walking across the street to a local convenience store to buy bread and he was hit by a car and became clinically dead for several minutes. Right after he was hit, Rosa felt a tug whisking him off into a tunnel of light [a common NDE]. The 58-year-old was rushed to the hospital and resuscitated, but left in a coma for weeks. During his NDE Rosa found himself in “Heaven,” where he met a spiritual Teacher and was taught the fundamentals about health and healing.

Ultimately, Rosa remembers that he would emerge from his coma not only grateful to be alive, but with a new found sense of intuition, increased empathy and more awareness of the connection to Heaven and Earth.

Rosa, a founder of the Stuart, Florida-based Unicorn Foundation whose mission is to bring spiritual awareness and education to everyday people, says that the most important revelation of his NDE was that all living things are connected. “No one’s actions are isolated to that specific person, but that every action has a ripple effect throughout the energy of our fellow,” he says. In this book. Dr. Sinatra confirms the importance of this revelation, noting how the need for human connection lies at the very heart of human existence. He describes how the practitioner’s ability to empathize with his patients is what truly facilitates the healing process, and also touches upon how one’s emotions can influence their health and overall well being.

His perspective of religion and living life has changed, too. Although he was raised a strict Catholic, the diversity of beliefs serves “Heaven” leading a person to a higher divine plane of consciousness. “I know now that everything is a dream and that you don’t sweat the small stuff,” he says.

Synchronicity Births a Book

At the time of Rosa’s NDE, Dr. Stephen Sinatra was dismantling the prevailing ideas of preventive pharmacology with his holistic approach to treatment. When Rosa met the Florida-based cardiologist, he got an intuitive feeling that the physician had an infection in his hip. This insight confirmed Dr. Sinatra’s own similar thoughts of infection, and he was later diagnosed with a staph infection. When Rosa shared with Dr. Sinatra the divine revelations of healing that he had learned in his celestial travels, the cardiologist was shocked–the keys to solving the imbalance of energy that he had identified as the cause of most chronic illness were the same as those Tommy was relating. Until this point, Dr. Sinatra hadn’t thought about how they were all connected and now it all made sense.

A dinner conversation would propel Rosa and Dr. Sinatra to write Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth, a book covering spiritual revelations from Rosa’s NDE and putting a medical slant to it. “I was prepped for this incredible conversation as I had many NDEs in my own cardiac practice,” remembers Dr. Sinatra. Once Rosa had discussed how he learned not only the importance of “grounding,” during his NDE but other health topics Dr. Sinatra was espousing in his medical practice and at lectures, it was clear to both that a book project must begin. And it did.

Millions Experience NDE

Over the years, Jeffrey Long, M.D., a leading NDE researcher, has documented over 3,000 NDEs, posted on the http://www.nderf.org website. The practicing radiation oncologist says that this data base is by far the largest collection of NDEs, available in 22 languages, that is publicly accessible. Readers from over 100 different foreign countries access Dr. Long’s web site monthly. Over 300,000 pages are read from this website every month.

Meanwhile, Dr. Long’s website, notes that although most people who come near death do not remember anything, around 18% [like Rosa] later report that “something happened.” That “something” is often a near-death experience NDE, says Long. He notes a 1993 Gallop Poll estimated that 12 to 15 million Americans personally experienced a NDE. As of 2001, almost 600 adults per day across the nation experience an NDE.

In this book Rosa pokes a hole in the veil between the living and dead. He tells it like it is. Because of his NDE he does not fear death. “Death is only a new beginning,” he says

During his 40 years in medical practice Dr. Sinatra had been at the bedside of many of his dying patients. “Some I saved. Some I lost,” he said, acknowledging that being with his dying patients often frightened him.” Rosa’s spiritual journey and the lessons learned have brought peace to Dr. Sinatra, his co-author. “In a heartbeat he literally saved me from my own fear of death,” he says.

To purchase a copy of Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth, go to http://www.healthrevelationsbook.com.

Whitehouse Pushes for Medicare to Pay for Person-Centered Care

Published on July 11, 2016 in Pawtucket Times

At a June hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse calls for improving care for over 90 million Americans with advanced illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and heart disease. On the day of this Aging panel hearing, the Rhode Island Senator unveiled his legislative proposal, “Removing Barriers to Person-Centered Care Act,” at this panel hearing that would promote better coordination between health care providers, and place greater emphasis on the care preferences of Medicare beneficiaries with advanced illnesses.

The hearing, titled “The Right Care at the Right Time: Ensuring Person-Centered Care for Individuals with Serious Illness,” explored ways to improve the quality and availability of care and examined care models that are helping people with serious illness and their families.

Having Important Life Conversations

The June 23 hearing pulled together witnesses who called for “about the need for families and health care providers to prioritize these important life conversations, so that individuals’ wishes are known and person-centered care is prioritized,” noted U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Aging. In her opening statement the Maine Senator called for federal policies to “support efforts to relieve suffering, respect personal choice, provide opportunities for people to find meaning and comfort during serious illness, and – most important – remain in control of their own care.”

Advance care planning conversations to a patients’ physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being are important in the care of a patient, says Collins. However, studies reveal that less than one-third of physicians have reported that their practice or health care system has a formal program in place to assess patients’ goals or preferences, she notes.

Collins also shared a personal story of a close friend who benefited from the person-centered care she received while she was a patient at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough, Maine. “Despite her serious illness, because of hospice care her days were filled with visits from friends and families and many joyful moments, and she was surrounded by her family when she died peacefully,” she said.

“I’ve heard from Rhode Islanders about how difficult it can be for patients battling serious, advanced illnesses to get the care and respect they want,” said Whitehouse.

Whitehouse noted that “We can do better by these patients. Because so many of the rules and incentives in our health care system are tied to the payment structure, we should design payment systems that support models of coordinated care that focuses on the full person. Payment systems should reward providers for honoring patients’ own preferences for their care.

As Dr. Atul Gawande, surgeon and author of the New York Times best-selling book, “Being Mortal, mentioned in his testimony, “people with serious, potentially life-limiting illnesses face substantial and increasing suffering, particularly during the last year of life. Medical care today typically exacerbates this suffering, often without any benefit of lengthened life. We have an opportunity to change this.”

“The goal is not a good death. Instead, the goal is to have as good a life as possible all the way to the very end,” say Dr. Gawande.

In her testimony, Amy Berman, a nurse and senior program officer at the John A. Hartford Foundation, who is living with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer stand stressed the importance of palliative care, which is designed to improve the quality of life for patients with serious illness.

“Palliative care is the best friend of the seriously ill,” said Berman, “Studies have shown that when palliative care is added at the beginning of a serious illness that people feel better and live longer.”

Finally, Dr. Kate Lally, Chief of palliative care for the Providence-based Care New England Health System, Medical Director of the Integra Accountable Care Organization, and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, urged Congress to consider legislation that would improve the quality, not just the quantity, of life of the seriously ill. “I feel blessed to do this work, and to be able to reflect with my patients on the life they have lived, their joys and regrets,” she said. “I feel I am able to share some of the most sacred moments of their life, and be at their side as they consider what is most important to them in their limited time.”

“The healthcare system as a whole, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, need to face growing expectations about how people with serious or terminal illnesses are treated,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “We are investing in prevention and early treatment and getting better results. Ultimately, however, people will still face serious illness and palliative care. Person-centered care is the proper prescription, and we must strive to make sure that it’s available. We need to be vigilant when it comes to supporting a healthcare environment in which patients with serious illness feel they are well informed and can remain properly in control of their options. And while families still tend to avoid these discussions in advance, when the time is right proper guidance makes a world of difference.

“People form especially strong opinions about decisions made that may prolong their existence, but add little to the quality of lives and, in fact, can prolong suffering,” Connell added. “Conversations on this phase of life are critical and we applaud Senators Collins and Whitehouse for their contribution to this dialogue.”

Legislation to Support New Models of Coordinated Care

The thrust of Whitehouse’s legislative proposal is to promote better coordination between health care providers, and place greater emphasis on the care preferences of Medicare beneficiaries with advanced illnesses.

“Too many Rhode Island Medicare patients battling difficult illnesses are struggling to get the right care at the right time,” said Whitehouse. “We need to break down the barriers between patients and the care they need. Because so many of the rules and incentives in our health care system are tied to the payment structure, we should design payment systems that support new models of coordinated care that are focused on human beings and not some rule or regulation.”

Whitehouse’s legislation would establish a pilot program administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made up of twenty “advanced care collaboratives” of affiliated health care providers and community-based social service organizations. Collaboratives would receive a planning grant to assess the needs of the population of patients it would serve; to purchase or upgrade health information technology to facilitate better coordination of care between providers; and to support education and training on documenting and communicating beneficiary treatment preferences and goals.

Once planning is complete, collaboratives would enter a three-year payment agreement with Medicare to provide coordinated, high-quality care for their target patient population. Under the terms of the pilot program, CMS would waive regulations to promote innovative care for patients with advanced illness.

Waivers would be granted to allow Medicare patients to receive hospice care and curative treatment at the same time. Currently CMS’s regulations force patients to choose one or the other for their terminal illness. Patients would be able to also receive Medicare coverage in a skilled nursing home without a consecutive three-day inpatient hospital stay. Under current Medicare rules, patients are often charged for skilled nursing care after they leave an inpatient hospital stay because they were hospitalized for observation rather than admitted to the hospital.

Whitehouse’s legislative proposal would also allow Medicare patients to receive home health services without the requirement that they be homebound. Under current rules, a patient’s condition must have progressed such that there “exists a normal inability to leave home,” denying these services to those who are seriously ill but still mobile. Finally, it would also allow nurse practitioners to sign home health and hospice care plans and certify patients for the hospice benefit. Right now, only doctors can do so, even though nurse practitioners are often the ones administering home health and hospice care. This forms another barrier for patients seeking these services, especially in underserved and rural areas.

According to Tom Koutsoumpas, Co-Chair of the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care’s (C-TAC) Board of Directors, Whitehouse’s legislative proposal is “a critical step forward to achieving high-quality, coordinated care for those with advanced illness. This legislation allows for important innovations in care delivery and removes obstacles to support patients throughout the care continuum.”

We Need Congress to Step Up and Fix Social Security, Medicare

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 3, 2016

Expect the nation’s Social Security program to be fully funded for nearly two decades, and Medicare’s solvency to continue courtesy of health care reforms. Social Security beneficiaries may even get a very small .2 percent cost of living (COLA) adjustment next year but will get wacked with a Medicare premium increase. These facts are reported in the recently leased 262 page report issued by the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare funds, transmitted to Congress and President Obama. This is the 76th report issued by the Trustees that financially reviews these two of the nation’s largest entitlement programs.

This 2016 Trustee Report, released on Jun 22, should be of interest to Rhode Island’s retirees who receive checks from Social Security, According to AARP, 153,349 Rhode Islanders received Social Security checks as of the end of 2014. Also, 22 percent of Rhode Island retirees depend on their Social Security check for 90 percent or more of their income. Their average benefit is $1,341 per month.
The Devils in the Details

The recently released 2016 Trustees Report notes there is now $2.81 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $23 billion more than last year and that it will continue to grow by payroll contributions and interest on the Trust Fund’s assets.

Meanwhile, Social Security remains well-funded. In 2016, as the economy continues to improve, Social Security’s total income is projected to exceed its expenses. In fact, the Trustees estimate that total annual income will exceed program obligations until 2020.

The Trustees say that Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until the year 2034, the same as projected in last year’s Report. After that, Social Security will still have sufficient revenue to pay about 79% of benefits if no changes are made to the program.

Although the Trustees project a .2% Cost of Living Adjustment increase, retirees will be hit with a premium increase next year. Medicare Part B premiums are projected to increase by only a very small amount for about 70 percent of beneficiaries in 2017 from $104.90 to $107.60. The standard monthly premium is projected to increase from $121.80 to $149.00 while the annual deductible is projected to increase from $166 to $204 for all beneficiaries.

The Trustees peg Medicare solvency to the passage of healthcare reform, with the program paying full benefits until 2028, 11 years later than was projected prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act. However, this is two years earlier than projected in 2015.

Congress Must Step to the Plate

Responding to the Social Security Trustees report, recently released report, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, said, “While the Trustees once again report that the combined Old Age, Survivor and Disability Insurance Trust can pay full retirement, survivor and disability benefits for some time, we know that if no action is taken, benefits could be cut by nearly 25 percent in 2034, and families could lose up to $10,000 per year in benefits.”

“Social Security remains a critical part of the fabric of our lives to protect us from both expected and unexpected challenge,” says Jenkins.

Jenkins calls on Presidential candidates and those running for Congress and the Senate to make a commitment to strengthening Social Security and outline their plans for the fix. “Throughout the 2016 election, we’ll continue to push candidates to take action if elected,” she says.

As to Medicare, Jenkins adds, “This year’s Medicare Trustees report reinforces the recent progress that has been made through greater Medicare savings and lower costs per enrollee. The report also highlights the financial challenges that continue to face the Medicare program, which is projected to provide critical health coverage to 64 million Americans by 2020.”

“A typical senior today has an annual income of just under $25,000 and pays roughly one out of every six dollars of this in out-of-pocket health care costs. The more than 55 million older Americans who today depend on Medicare for guaranteed, affordable health coverage simply cannot afford more than they already pay,” says Jenkins.

The Solution Could Be Simple

Jenkins urges Congress to make simple solutions to bring stability to the nation’s Medicare program. She suggests Congress find ways to reduce high prescription drug costs, improve the nation’s health care outcomes, eliminate unnecessary diagnostic testing, curb excess paperwork, and identify waste and fraud in the program.

Adds, Max Richtman, President/CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, “What’s likely to be missing in headlines about today’s Social Security Trustees Report is that the program remains well-funded with total income, again, projected to exceed expenses. However, in order to head off a benefit cut in 2034 Washington should embrace the growing movement to lift the payroll tax cap and expand benefits for the millions of seniors struggling to get by on an average $1,300 retirement benefit.

The Trustees also project a tiny .2% cost of living adjustment next year yet Medicare premiums will increase in 2017, says Richtman. “Seniors continue to see their modest Social Security benefits eaten away by growing healthcare costs which illustrates, once again, that the current Social Security COLA formula isn’t accurately measuring seniors’ expenses. Congress needs to adopt a fully developed CPI for the elderly (CPI-E) and begin work on the many Social Security expansion bills now languishing in the House and Senate,” he adds.

This [Trustee’s] report reinforces the importance of ensuring that Social Security and Medicare are preserved and guaranteed, especially for working and middle class Rhode Islanders,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) who is a co-sponsor of the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act. “Reasonable measures, such as raising the cap on high-income contributions, should be considered by Congress to extend the solvency of these programs. I will continue to advocate for commonsense legislation that strengthens benefits for working families and ensures the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicare,” he says.

RI. Reps Protect Social Security

Like Cicilline, Rep. Jim Langevin and Democratic Senators Jack Reed (D and Sheldon Whitehouse both view Social Security as an earned benefit and the primary source of income to millions of retirees that must be protected. The Rhode Island Congressional Delegation has fought off Republican efforts to privatize Social Security and have supported legislation to strengthen this program and Medicare.

It is very clear to aging advocates and to the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds that the next President and Congress put political differences aside to make legislative fixes to strengthen and ensure the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicare.

The Trustees say this very clearly in their report, “Lawmakers have many policy options that would reduce or eliminate the long-term financing shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare. Lawmakers should address these financial challenges as soon as possible. Taking action sooner rather than later will permit consideration of a broader range of solutions and provide more time to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare.”

Political compromise will be the way to hammer out Social Security and Medicare reforms. When the dust is settled after the upcoming November president elections hopefully this message was delivered at the ballet box.

Aging Report is “Rhode Map” for Change

Published on June 27, 2016 in Pawtucket Times

Next year look for the policy debate in the Rhode Island General Assembly to heat with Governor Dan McKee’s Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC) release of a sixty page report in June documenting the sky rocketing growth of the state’s older population and identifying strategies to allow these individuals to age in place and stay in their communities.

The Aging in Community Subcommittee was mandated by the enactment of the Aging in Community Act of 2014, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mary Ellen Goodwin and Representatives Christopher Blazejewski and Eileen Naughton. The Subcommittee, chaired by Maureen Maigret, Vice Chair of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council, and former Director of the Division of Elderly Affairs, staff from Rhode Island College, Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, representatives from state agencies, members of the senior community, and senior service providers.

According to Maigret, it has taken almost 18 months to gather data, host focus groups and to write the “Aging in Community” report. The report provides demographic data snapshot on the state’s older population and also inventories current services and resources. It also identifies challenges faced by older Rhode Islanders and recommends strategies to promote successful aging in community in these nine issue areas.

Maigret believes that this report may take the most comprehensive look at what aging programs and services are available to assist older Rhode Islanders age in place in their communities and it identifies what programs and services are lacking. “The State Plan on Aging does have some data and actions planned but does not comprehensively cover all the domains covered in the “Aging in Community” report,” she says.

A Demographic Snap Shot

In 2010, the report notes that over 152,000 Rhode Islanders were age 65, predicting that this number will sky rocket to 247,000 in 2030. By 2025, Rhode Island will be considered to be a “Super Aging” state where 20 percent of its population will be over age 65. The report noted that two years ago the population of New Shoreham, Little Compton, North Smithfield, North Providence and Tiverton had already reached “Super Aging” status.

The report added that 42 percent of over age 65 household incomes amounted to less than $30,000. Only 49 percent of the retirees have non Social Security retirement income. Fifty two percent of the older renters and 39 percent of the home owners were financially burdened with covering housing costs. Poverty levels for older Rhode Islander vary, from 7 percent in Bristol County to 18 percent in Providence County.

The LTCCC report notes that even with lower incomes older Rhode Islanders have a major impact on the state’s economy. They bring in over $2.9 billion dollars from Social Security pensions and $281 million in taxes into the state’s economy. Older workers account for 33,750 jobs throughout all job sectors.

Rhode Island’s retirees provide an estimated $ 149 million by volunteering and an estimated $ 2 billion in providing caregiving services to family and friends.

A Spotlight on Priority Recommendations

The Subcommittee’s findings were the result of interviews held with aging service providers, an examination of age-friendly best practices in other states and ten focus groups conducted with older Rhode Islander from across the state.

The focus groups attendees gave the Subcommittee valuable information. They stressed that Senior Centers were “highly valued.” Many expressed financial concerns for their current situation and into the future. Attendees were very concerned about the lack of transportation and lack of affordable housing. State customer service employees were viewed by many as “unfriendly.”

Dozens of strategies were listed in the LTCCC report for state policy makers to consider to better assist older Rhode Islanders to successfully age in their community in these nine issue areas: Information and Communication, Community Engagement, Transportation, Economic Security, Food Security and Nutrition, Housing, Supports at Home, Healthcare Access and Open Spaces/Public Buildings

The LTCCC report identifies priority strategies including the restoring of senior center funding based on a population-based formula and continuing RIPTA’s no-fare bus pass program for low income seniors and persons with disabilities. It also calls for increase payments for homecare and for restoring state funding for Elder Respite.

Maigret says that creating a coalition of aging groups to “build an age-friendly Rhode Island” is the next step to take. Businesses can also become “age friendly” and better understand the economic value of older Rhode Islanders bring to the state and its educational institutions, she says.

Political Will Required to Implement LTCCC Report Strategies

There must be a political will to implement the strategies of the LTCCC report, says Maigret, starting with the state’s top elected official. “Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget had added $600,000 in funding for senior centers but the Rhode Island General Assembly removed it,” she said, noting that the decrease in funding got caught up in the negativity surrounding Community Service grants. “We were fortunate the 2017 budget will still have $400,000 in funding for senior centers,” she says.

“Rhode Island’s older adult population contributes a great deal socially, economically, and intellectually to our communities. Ensuring that those Rhode Islanders who desire to age-in-place are able to do so only enriches our society,” said Governor Raimondo. “I’m pleased that Director Fogarty, and members of his senior staff, serve and work with the Long Term Care Coordinating Council and the Subcommittee on Aging in Community. The insight they gain from service with these committees helps to shape State policy and programs related to services for seniors.

“I applaud the members of the Subcommittee for their dedication to creating a clear, comprehensive report on aging that can be a catalyst for change in our state. Their work recognizes that Rhode Island’s older population is growing dramatically and that we must direct public policy to help them remain active and in their homes,” said Lt. Governor McKee. I look forward to supporting the strategies detailed in the Subcommittee’s report to help build stronger, healthier communities for all Rhode Islanders.”

Finally, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, also says that the Subcommittee report’s recommendations will also be studied closely next legislative session. “I will be reviewing the findings of the report in greater detail and I will confer with Representatives Chris Blazejewski and Eileen Naughton, who sponsored and advocated for the Aging in Community Act of 2014. Our older population in Rhode Island is a growing one and it is important that we continue to listen to their needs and be responsive. I commend the work of the subcommittee, as well as all those who participated in the focus groups. I would anticipate that any policy and financial recommendations will be fully analyzed by the members of the General Assembly in the 2017 session.”

The LTCCC’s “Aging in Community” report gives our policy makers a road map in reconfiguring the state’s fragmented aging programs and services. With the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President on board, we might just see legislative changes in the next years that might just be what we need to keep people at home and active in their community. Lawmakers must not act penny-wise and pound foolish when considering legislative fixes.

Both the executive summary and the full Subcommittee “Aging in Community” report are available on the Lieutenant Governor’s website at: http://www.ltgov.ri.gov and the general assembly website at: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Pages/Reports.aspx.

And No, We’re Not Talking Pong: New Survey Captures Attitudes and Habits of Older Gamers

Published on June 19, 2016 in Woonsocket Call

Although the millennial generation grew up being surrounded with interactive technology, spending thousands of hours playing video games, baby boomers are technologically plugged in, too. According to a new survey released in the beginning of June by AARP and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 41 million Americans, more than one of every three people over age 50, play video games on a regular basis.

According to Oscar Anderson, AARP Research, “The video game industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. economy with more than $23 billion in sales last year. Innovation present in this industry affects not only entertainment but also business, engineering, health, and education.”

Older Adults and Technology

The 93 page report, Video Games: Attitudes and Habits of Adults Age 50-Plus, found that three-quarters of gamers age 50-plus play weekly, with four in 10 playing daily. Among gamers age 60 and above, 43 percent play video games every day.

Researchers say that the top reason gamers say they play video games is to have fun (26% say this is an extremely important reason and 52% say it is very important). Maintaining mental sharpness also was cited by the survey respondent as an important reason for playing video games.

The researchers also found that a greater proportion of older gamers compared to younger gamers report playing video games weekly or more often (37% of 50-59 year olds compared to 43% of 60-plus say they play every day).

“With the explosion of dynamic, compelling, and diverse content and the growing popularity of online gaming, video games are now an experience shared across generations of Americans,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of ESA, which represents the U.S. video game industry in a statement on June 2, 2016 with the release of the survey findings. “As Gen X turns 50 and Millennials raise tech-centric families, participation will only continue to expand just as games continue to evolve.”

The report prepared by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, explored the attitudes and habits of people age 50 also examining what how and what older gamers play. Older gamers most commonly play on laptops or computers (59 percent), followed closely by phones or mobile devices (57 percent) to play video games. They prefer video games that mimic traditional forms of play; card/tile games (46 percent) and puzzle/logic games (44 percent) are the most popular among older gamers.

Crossing Generational Lines

“Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong. Today’s online video games give people 50-plus fun ways to stay connected with their family and friends through online gaming communities across a variety of devices,” said Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, in her statement. “Video games and apps are truly ageless, offering gamers of all ages—a grandfather as well as his granddaughter—the opportunity to share entertainment and social interactions with one another.”

The study found that Gamers age 50-plus are more likely to be women (40 percent) than men (35 percent). More of the female respondents reported playing games daily (45 percent) than their male counterparts (35 percent). Meanwhile, women (57%) are significantly more likely than men (43%) to say they play more today than they did five years ago.

Additionally, researchers say that card/tile games (46%) and puzzle/logic games (44%), followed distantly by trivia/word/ traditional board video games top the list of respondents’ three favorite types of video games.

In total, 22% of gamers have not made any video game related purchase in the past 6 months. Of the gamers who made purchases, 77% bought for themselves, while 52% bought for others.

Half of older gamers say that learning about new video games and gaming hardware came from sources other than internet websites, with one in six reporting their children and grandchildren influence their choice of games.

With the exception of those who are trained in their jobs, most people 50+ have learned most of that they know about computing from their children and their grandchildren,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “So, it should come as no surprise that plenty of people 50 and over have been exposed to, if not addicted to video games.

Promoting Brain Health and Other Bennies

“Recently, I observed a member playing the online Scrabble game ‘Words With Friends’ on her tablet while waiting for a meeting to start,” Connell added. “She was connected with a grandchild and loving it.

“We know that certain video games promote brain health, which is something we all are hoping to strengthen. And the so-called ‘passive-learning games’ are a way to connect people with useful information.  Just last month, AARP launched the Pop Up! Family Caregiver Game, which challenged players to learn more about valuable resources for family caregivers. Throughout June, you could download the free app and play daily with a chance to win prizes. It was a refreshing way to engage people, provide some fun and spread the word about our organization’s ongoing efforts to support caregivers.”

Researchers are telling us that playing video games can increases social interaction, enhance your mood and improves physical health, social and cognitive functioning. Some games can even improve hand-eye coordination.

AARP’s Video Game study findings indicate that older persons are becoming comfortable with newly emerging technologies. A growing number of baby boomers and seniors are now easily communicating with family and friends on Facebook and other social media, playing video games, streaming movies or even reading digital E-books.

Most important research studies are now looking at gaming and brain functioning are are finding that regularly playing video and internet games just might positively impact your physical and cognitive health and well-being.

As to methodology of AARP’s Video Game study, the online survey took place between March 9 through March 17, 2016, with a nationally representative sample of 2,964 adults age 50 and older (gamers, n=1510; non-gamers, n=1454). For additional details about this newly released report, contact G. Oscar Anderson of AARP Research at GAnderson@aarp.org.

Regular Folks Give Sound Advice to Class of 2016 for Future Success

Published in Pawtucket Times on June 6, 2016

As previous years, high-profile commencement speakers are coming to Rhode Island’s Colleges and Universities selected to give to the robed 2016 graduates their unique practical tips as to how one can have a rewarding personal and professional career. As I mentioned last May in my weekly commentary, these widely-recognized speakers can quickly bring prestige to the educational institution but they oftentimes command big bucks for their brief appearance. . . .

Like last year this writer calls for choosing regular folks to give commencement speeches to graduating College seniors. Their practical tips, suggestions and “words of wisdom” are honed each and every day at work and through their personal intimate relationships with family and friends and by the challenges faced throughout their life’s journey.

The following advice from these Rhode Islanders can be especially helpful to those graduating to cope in a very complex and changing world.

Doug Allen, 53, Douglas, Massachusetts (formerly from Lincoln, Rhode Island.), owner of Lincoln Associates. “Look around at your fellow graduates. There is at least one person here that you never spoke to, nor socialized with, that will someday become extremely successful. And they, unfortunately, will remember how they were treated in high school. Don’t make this mistake again. Every person you come in contact with could be that person who changes your life. Make it a point to say a kind word to everyone. Otherwise, you will never know if the next Mark Zuckerberg sat beside you in math class your sophomore year.”

Richard Blockson, 61, Providence, former general manager of The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call, who currently works in the financial service sector. “Striving to be a person of sound character is an admirable goal. It cannot be bought, given to you or taken away. It levels the playing field between privileged and underprivileged. It will help guide you through troubled waters and grant you a path of good decisions during your lifetime.”

Carol Conley, 60, Pawtucket, assistant to the executive director, Rhode Island Film Office, Rhode Island. “Be grateful. Be kind. Karma is a real thing. Give to others what you would like to receive and it will eventually come back to you. Wait for it; trust the universe’s timing. Challenge yourself. Conquer your fears. Never, ever give up.”

Michelle DePlante, 29, Cumberland, director of programs, Leadership Rhode Island, “Discover who you are and what strengths you bring to the table. Engage with people who seem the least like you and listen to them to understand, not simply to reply. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable – you’ll grow as a person, and life will never be boring. Get to know your neighbors and be accountable to your community.”

Diane Dufresne, 63, Pawtucket, director at Pawtucket Prevention Coalition, “Take the knowledge and experience of those who have mentored you and invested in you, those who have helped mold your life and use that to become the best version of yourself that you can be……use what you have gained and contribute to make society better……one day you will have the opportunity to mentor others and you will impact another person to do the same.”.

Paul C. Harden, 56, Newport, director of Transportation Technology at New England Institute of Technology, “As a college graduate take every opportunity to learn, consider new ideas and develop new skills. You do not have to go back to school and get another degree. Trying reading books, taking a free online course or finding a mentor who can give you sound counsel.”

Mike Lyons, 73, East Providence, corporate and community partnerships, Pawtucket Red Sox Baseball Club, “Henry David Thoreau is the author of one of my favorite quotes: To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.’ College Graduates in particular have both the opportunity and responsibility that their education has afforded them to make each day matter.”

John Resnick, 52, Cranston, entrepreneur, “I have learned that your parents may try to live their lives through you and your career choice. Never give up your own dreams to follow the dreams and plans your parents may have for you. The only thing that you owe your parents is the promise that you continually pursue happiness throughout the course of your life.”

Wayne Rosenberg, 60, Providence, real estate broker and construction manager, “Most college degrees are not going to be your ticket to financial freedom. Your most important challenge you will face is finding meaningful work. You must realize that no one can do this for you but yourself. Take charge. If you cannot find employment consider becoming your own boss and employ yourself.”

Joyce Silvestri, 62, Seekonk, Massachusetts, former banquet director at Twelve Acres, “As you are entering upon your post-graduation experience, it is important to remember that as much as you are all vying for possible jobs or post graduate education, the competition will be even greater than you have experienced so far. Reflecting on what you have heard and seen in this election year, you would be wise to entertain this workplace or educational competition without losing sight of civility. That would be your true success.”

Jim Tiernan, 55, Hamilton, owner of 80 Fountain Street, LLC, a Pawtucket mill that houses artists and creative sector companies. “It is important for graduating seniors to realize that not many people know what they want to be when they ‘grow up.’ Don’t fret about making that perfect choice or worry that you don’t have a passion for your chosen field of education. You won’t always make perfect choices, but with a little thought and feedback from your friends and those older your choice will lead you in a positive direction. Wherever you land, learn from those around you with more experience and become as fully engaged in life as you possibly can. You only go around once.”

Rico Vota, 34, Cranston, communications & constituent affairs officer, City of Pawtucket. “You never know when the last time you talked to someone, is going to be the last time you talk to someone. Make every interaction you have with people count for something.”

And this writer, concludes with his favorite quote from the Roman poet Horace’s Odes. “Carpe Diem , Quam Minimum Credula Postero.” Translation: “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow.”