AARP Scorecard: Taking a Closer Look at Rhode Island’s Long-Term Services and Support to Older Adults

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 18, 2017

With America’s baby boomers beginning to turn age 80 in 2026, days ago the Washington, DC-based AARP released Scorecards detailing how each state spends its dollars on long-term services and supports (LTSS) to assist older adults and adults with disabilities. The report findings revealed a need for state legislatures to quicken the pace of improving LTSS for their older residents. LTSS include assistance with activities of daily living provided to older adults and people with disabilities who cannot perform these activities on their own because of physical, cognitive, or chronic health conditions. The types of assistance include such things as help with bathing, dressing, managing medications, preparing meals, and transportation, as well as support for family caregivers.

The latest comprehensive state-by-state Scorecard report was funded by AARP Foundation with support of the nation’s leading organizations behind quality long-term care, The Commonwealth Fund and SCAN Foundation. This is the third edition of the Scorecard, initially released in 2011 and again in 2014.

AARP’s 2017 report, “Picking Up the Pace of Change: A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers (“Scorecard”), released on June 14, finds that although Rhode Island and most states have taken small steps to make some progress, this pace of change overall remains too slow and has not kept up with demographic demands.

“This Scorecard sounds the alarm, but it also provides a range of tools states can use to spark new solutions and create systems that are aligned with the new realities of aging and living with a disability,” said Susan Reinhard, RN, PhD, Senior Vice President and Director, AARP Public Policy Institute. “The proposed cuts to Medicaid—the largest public payer of long-term assistance—would result in millions of older adults and people with disabilities losing lifesaving supports.”

“This new Scorecard shows that it’s time for all states to accelerate care improvements for older adults and people with disabilities,” said Bruce Chernof, MD, FACP, President and CEO of The SCAN Foundation. “States that consistently rank at the top have strategically planned for their aging population across the main sectors of health, housing, transportation and family caregiving.”

Like previous two LTSS scorecards, states are ranked on their performance in five categories: Affordability and access, Choice of setting and provider; Quality of life and quality of care; Support for family caregivers; and Effective transitions between nursing homes, hospitals and homes. Within the five categories, states are scored on their performance in 25 specific indicators, including such things as Medicaid spending, nursing home cost, home health aide supply, antipsychotic medication use in nursing home residents, long nursing home stays, employment rate of people with disabilities, and support of working caregivers.

But this year, AARP has made changes in LTSS Scores in the way information is presented on its interactive website (www.longtermscorecard.org), making it easier for a user to customize data to suit their specific needs. Visitors to the Scorecard site will be able to access videos, called Impact Stories, that show how improving on the Scorecard can impact the lives of real people.

Users can also download Promising Practices as well as Emerging Innovations (updated throughout the year) that state officials can use as they work to improve their long-term care delivery systems.

Rhode Island Improves in Delivering LTC Services

In the 2017 AARP report, Rhode Island ranks 32nd overall when it comes to meeting the long-term care needs of older residents and people with disabilities, but showed improvement in all but one Scorecard category. AARP warns more must be done, at an accelerated pace, to meet changing demographic demands. Rhode Island ranks 22nd nationally Support for Family Caregivers and 24th in Quality of Life & Quality of Care. The state ranks 35th in Effective Transitions – the only category in decline

“The vast majority of older Rhode Islanders want to live independently, at home, as they age—most with the help of unpaid family caregivers,” says Kathleen Connell, State Director of AARP Rhode Island, which serves more than 138,00 members age 50 and older in the state. “Even facing tight budgets, Rhode Island is making progress to help our older residents achieve that goal. However, this Scorecard shows we have more to do, and we need to pick up the pace.”

According to Connell, today, unpaid family caregivers provide the bulk of care for older Rhode Islanders in part because the cost of long-term care remains unaffordable for most middle-income families. In Rhode Island, more than 134,000 residents help their aging parents, spouses and other loved ones stay at home by helping with bathing and dressing, transportation, finances, complex medical tasks like wound care and injections, and more. The value of this unpaid care totals about $1.78 billion.

“When it comes to helping older Rhode, Islanders live in the setting of their choice, family caregivers take on big responsibilities,” explains Connell. “Many juggle full-time jobs with their caregiving duties; others provide 24/7 care for their loved ones. With every task they undertake, these family caregivers save the state money by keeping their loved ones out of costly nursing homes – most often paid for Medicaid. They have earned some basic support.”

“That’s why AARP Rhode Island has fought for Caregiver, Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act; caregiver temporary leave insurance; and caregiver tax credits, adds Connell.

Rhode Island has made progress to improve long-term services and supports for older adults and people with disabilities, as highlighted in this Scorecard. But, proposals in Washington, D.C. to drastically cut federal Medicaid funding would threaten these advancements, likely resulting in our most vulnerable citizens losing the lifesaving supports that they count on,” says Connell.

“The single strongest predictor of a state’s long-term care system is the reach of its Medicaid long-term care safety net,” says Connell, noting that’s why AARP fights to expand services provided at home and in the community, by shifting funds away from and more expensive nursing home care. “While the percent of long-stay nursing home residents hospitalized within a six-month period has decreased, the Scorecard highlights additional serious issues related to institutional care in Rhode Island, such as residents with pressure sores and residents with low care needs],” she notes.

While Rhode Island has improved its rank from 50th to 44th in the percentage of Medicaid long-term care dollars for older adults and people with physical disabilities that support care provided at home and in the community—the care setting that most Rhode Islanders prefer—the Scorecard spotlights areas that call for improvement, including choice of setting and provider; and effective transitions.

Specifically, the percent of

• Medicaid and state-funded LTSS going to HCBS;
• Medicaid LTSS users first receiving services in the community;
• People with 90+ day nursing home stays successfully transitioning back to the community;
• Nursing home stays lasting 100 days or more.

“This Scorecard gives us a snapshot of how well Rhode Island serves our older residents, those with disabilities, and family caregivers—and shows us where we must sharpen our focus to better assist hardworking Rhode Islanders,” concludes Connell. “We will continue to work with the governor, legislative leaders and policymakers to take the actions needed now to protect our expanding needs.”

Connell says that of the 25 Scorecard indicators, many may be improved through state policy changes, pointing to the importance of AARP’s multi-state advocacy campaign, launched in 2014, to help older Americans live independently, at home, and the family caregivers that support them.

Director Charles Fogarty, of Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly Affairs, sees the importance of AARP’s Rhode Island’s Scorecard, to evaluate progress in meeting the needs of older Rhode Islanders. “This report reinforces what we already know: while Rhode Island is showing improvements in some areas, there is still much to be done to provide the level of care and services our seniors deserve. Our improved ranking from 50th to 44th in the percentage of Medicaid long-term care dollars spent on home and community care options is a step in the right direction,” says Fogarty.
“We must continue to build upon the success of Reinventing Medicaid and move towards rebalancing of the long-term care system while preserving access and quality of care for older Rhode Islanders,” adds Fogarty.

AARP Scorecard Snap Shot of the National Delivery of LTSS

Washington State and Minnesota are top-ranked states again (followed by Vermont, Oregon and Alaska), but all states lag in helping care for the nation’s growing populations of older persons with people aging and living with disabilities.

AARP’s LTSS Score card noted that the bottom ranking states were Indiana, (No. 51), Kentucky (No. 50, Alabama, (No. 49), Mississippi, (No. 48), and Tennessee (no. 47).

According to researchers, overall, states made incremental LTSS improvements since the previous report in 2014, but the pace of change has been slow and uneven. However, two states—Tennessee and New York—showed the most improvement across measures since the last Scorecard.

States made the most significant progress in reducing inappropriate ‘off label’ use of antipsychotic medications among nursing home residents and increasing support of family caregivers.

In general, states showed the most significant declines in employment rates for people with disabilities and rates of transitioning long-stay nursing home residents back into the community. Notably, the majority of states showed no real change on ‘Affordability and Access,’ meaning that the cost of LTSS over time continues to be much higher than what the majority of families can afford.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

Assistance to Employee Caregivers Good for Everyone’s Bottom Line

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 11, 2017

Days ago, AARP and the Respect a Caregiver’s Time Coalition (ReACT) released a report detailing innovative practices and policies of 14 organizations to support their employees with caregiver responsibilities. With the graying of America, supporting caregiver employees should be considered “a potentially new weapon” to attract or retain talented employees, say the researchers, by flexible work arrangements and paid leave policies. And there will be a need for this support.

It is estimated that of the 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S., 60 percent are employed. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP Public Policy Institute, nearly 25 percent of all family caregivers are millennials, and 50 percent are under the age of 50. This means that the growing number of family caregivers in the workforce is an issue that all employers will face. The NAC/AARP research also revealed that 61 percent of working caregivers must make workplace accommodations including modifying hours, taking a leave of absence, choosing early retirement or turning down a promotion.

Report Cites Best Practices to Support Employee Caregivers

The 14 case studies in the new report, “Supporting Working Caregivers: Case Studies of Promising Practices,” include well-known organizations from both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and both large and small employers. They represent a broad set of industries, including financial services, health care, higher education, home care, management consulting, media, and technology.

There is “no one size fit all” solution to meeting the needs of employee caregivers, say the researchers. But, even with the diversity of the 14 participating organizations “there is clear evidence of promising practices” identified through these interviews, they note.

Researchers gleaned best practices from 14 nonprofits and for profits (from very large employers with over 200,000 workers to ones with less than 200 workers), detailing in the report released on June 8, 2017, how these organizations assist their caregiver employees. These companies provide a broad array of information resources and referrals, flexible work arrangements, paid time off for caregiving, emergency backup care, and, in some cases, high-touch counseling and care management advice.

“Family caregivers juggle their loved one’s needs with their own personal and professional goals every day. AARP hopes this report will encourage more employers understand caregiving and support their employees’ success,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer in a statement. AARP sponsored the 49-page report.

According to researchers, interviews with business and human resources executives from the profiled organizations indicated that time and flexibility are what matter most to employees when it comes to balancing work and caregiving. Close to half of the employers interviewed provide paid time off for caregiving as well as emergency backup care and flexible work arrangements.

All offer employee caregivers a combination of information resources, referral services and advice by phone. Most provide resources online, typically through an employee assistance program (EAP) or an intranet portal. More than half offer phone consultations or 24/7 expert hotlines. Several interviewees stressed the value of providing on-site, independent eldercare consultants, noting that employees appreciate both the convenience and the respect for their privacy.

“ReACT represents a cross-sector employer effort to raise awareness of and spur action to meet the challenges millions face every day while taking care of an older loved one,” said Drew Holzapfel, convener of ReACT, in a statement. “It’s exciting to see how leading organizations are showcasing the value of employee caregivers’ dual roles at home and in the office.”

Organizations Give Thumbs Up to Assisting Employee Caregivers

Interviewees at the participating organizations were not shy in explaining the importance of offering caregiver assistance to employees.

Michelle Stone, Fannie Mae’s Work-Life Benefits Senior Program Manager, says, “We have been asked, ‘How can you afford to do this?’ Our response is, ‘How can we afford not to?’ The program helps our company and our employees save time and money, and the return on investment is substantial.”

Michelle Martin, Vice President, Human Resources Specialty Services, CBS Corporation, states, “Our hope is to fill the gaps in support along the continuum of care so that employees not only have what they need to care, but also the peace of mind to do so without worrying about their job.”

“At Allianz Life, we like to say, ‘we’ve been keeping promises to our employees and customers since our founding.’ Nothing matters more than our employees and we work every day to provide them with benefits that allow for work-life balance and peace of mind,” says Suzanne Dowd Zeller, Chief Human Resources Officer.

Adds Audrey Adelson, manager of work-life, Emory University, “Our program is based on a continuum of care model, designed to support not only entrenched caregivers, but also those who anticipate becoming a caregiver and those whose caregiving responsibilities have ended and are beginning to move beyond caregiving.”

AARP Rhode Island Champions Caregiving Temporary Disability Insurance

Most employers recognize that some of their best workers are not at their best when they are caregivers in crisis for feeling the onset of burnout,” AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen noted. “One of the reasons is that most employers and their human resources managers respond to the needs of caregivers is because they are not far removed from caregiving if not caregivers themselves. They know that caregiving responsibilities sometimes must take precedence over work. And they understand that what is good for the caregiver is also good for their business.

“In Rhode Island, caregiving temporary disability insurance – legislation championed by AARP – gives caregivers paid leave to attend to caregiving tasks or as respite when a break from work benefits all concerned. Employers should assess their policies and give thought to the importance of supporting their caregiving employees’ success. This is true of businesses large and small and non-profits as well. These bosses can start by simply asking themselves what their expectations would be if they were an employee.”

Rhode Island CEOs might consider obtaining a copy of this report, passing the document to Human Resources for review and ultimate implement of eldercare policies. Stressed employee caregivers will appreciate any assistance they can get to help them in their caregiving responsibilities. But, this makes good business sense, too. Assisting employee caregivers will increase employee productivity, improving the company’s bottom line.

To read the full report, go to:
http://respectcaregivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/AARP-ReAct-MASTER-web.pdf

Trump Budget Could Eventually Hurt Seniors

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 4, 2017

Last month, President Donald Trump submitted his Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal to a GOP controlled Congress. Critics of the Republican president and Democratic lawmakers called the 62-page budget proposal, “Dead on Arrival.” Now, with Congressional recess over, look for the House and Senate to begin drafting their own fiscal blueprint.

Massive Cuts to Entitlements and Discretionary Spending

Trump’s $4.1 trillion spending plan proposes historic, massive cuts by eliminating funding for 19 federal agencies to offset the cost of $54 billion to increase defense spending, to pay for infrastructure and the construction of a border wall between Mexico and the U.S., and to fund school voucher programs and a new paid leave initiative. The Trump budget also slashed funding from the budgets of other executive departments and agencies as well. The Environment Protection Agency, the State Department and Agriculture Department took the biggest funding cuts.

The core philosophy of Trump’s first full budget request, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” can be described as “Taxpayer First,” says Director Mick Mulvaney, of the Office of Management and Budgets.

Mulvaney, a former Republican Congressman now serving as Trump’s budget director, told reporters one day before the release of Trump’s budget, “This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes.”
We’re not going to measure our success by how much money we spend, but by how many people we actually help,” added Mulvaney.

Many aging advocates fear that Trump’s budget proposal will fray the nation’s social safety net forcing seniors to fall into poverty.
With the release of the Trump Budget proposal, the Washington, DC-based AARP, representing over 38 million members was quick to issue this statement. Executive Vice

President Nancy LeaMond said “AARP opposes the budget proposed today because it explicitly harms the very people we are counting on the President to protect. Today’s budget proposes to cut Social Security benefits, as well as funding for critical health, hunger, housing, and transportation assistance to low and middle-income seniors. This budget sends a powerful message to older Americans and their families that their health and financial security is at risk.”

“We do want to acknowledge the Administration’s paid leave proposal. Although it must be improved so that it addresses the workplace needs of all family caregivers, we hope that it leads to a national conversation about ways to support family caregivers in the workplace,” adds LeaMond.
The Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), believes Trump’s released budget proposal “literally leaves seniors in the cold.”

“This heartless budget does not reflect true American values,” says Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare in a statement. “In our America, we do not cast seniors into the cold. We do not take food out of their mouths or make it harder to get the healthcare they so desperately need. In short, we do not cut off our most vulnerable citizens at the knees to pay for a massive tax break for the wealthy and big corporations.”

“This budget undermines the President’s promises to seniors. It guts Medicaid, which he promised to protect. The cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), [a program that helps disabled beneficiaries to say at work or return to work] violates his pledge not to tamper with Social Security. It also casts into serious doubt his pledge as a candidate to defend Medicare. No one who is serious about protecting these vital programs would propose a budget so harmful to seniors,” says Richtman.

Richtman says, “Make no mistake: the $64 billion in SSDI cuts are very real – and would cause real pain for Americans with severe disabilities. These are people deemed by the Social Security Administration to be too disabled to work. The qualification requirements are stringent, and the cases dire. Though SSDI helps younger Americans, too, most of its beneficiaries are 55 or over – meaning any cuts to the program will hit older Americans particularly hard. In fact, an average 1 in 6 men on SSDI die within 5 years of claiming benefits. For women, the figure is 1 in 7.”

Trump Budgetary Cuts Hurt Seniors, Poor

According to NCPSSM’s Government Relations and Policy staff, Trump’s budget proposal would drastically slash or eliminate funding for programs that benefit America’s seniors. Here is a sampling of budgetary cuts they identified.

Trump’s budgetary cuts of SSDI has an impact on older disabled persons. It would limit the retroactivity of applications for disability benefits from 12 months to six months and denies unemployment compensation payments to certain SSDI beneficiaries. Finally, it unreasonably caps the amount of payable to individuals who receive SSDI while living with other Supplemental Security Income recipients.

The president’s budget proposal also slashes more than $600 billion from the Medicaid program, which undermines seniors’ access to long-term care. It also eliminates the Community Services Block Grant ($715 million), the Community Development Block Grant ($3 billion) and the Social Service Block Grant ($1.7 billion) which helps fund some Meals-on-Wheels program, delivering hot meals to needy seniors.

Trump calls for eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which assists seniors with heating costs. LIHEAP received $3.39 billion in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget. Of the 6.8 million household’s assistance, it is estimated that 2.26 million are over age 60.
Federal funding is also reduced for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $5.67 billion (including nearly $300 million for the National Institute on Aging), which will negatively impact research into cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases affecting older Americans.

With flat-line funding in the president’s budget proposal, we can expect longer waits at the local offices of Social Security Administration (SSA) and even extended waits when calling SSA’s telecommunication centers. The agency has been critically underfunded since 2010 – reducing the quality of service to SSA beneficiaries. This will continue.

Finally, Trump’s budget proposal eliminates funding for the Senior Corps programs, including the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions. These programs enable older adults to remain act in their homes.

Rhode Island Lawmaker Gives His Two Cents

U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline notes, who serves as Co-Chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee “If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing Rhode Island seniors. This budget would cut Medicaid by up to $1.3 trillion over the next decade, jeopardizing health coverage that more than 18,000 Rhode Island seniors rely on to access high-quality affordable care.”

“Additionally, despite the President’s campaign promise not to touch Social Security, this budget carves out tens of billions in cuts to SSDI. That would have a devastating impact on SSDI recipients – most of whom are over the age of 55 – who have worked their entire lives and are physically unable to earn additional income,” says the Democratic lawmaker.

Cicilline warns, “Trump’s proposal to slash $193 billion – over 25 percent of total funding – over a decade to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would undermine the health and well-being of more than 16,300 Rhode Island seniors who receive assistance for their basic food and nutrition needs every month.”

“This budget would eliminate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income people, including thousands of seniors, pay their heating and cooling bills. It also eliminates the Social Services Block Grant and State Health Insurance Program, both of which provide critical federal support to help states meet the individualized needs of their seniors,” adds Cicilline.

“Plain and simple, this is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class and millions of seniors who have worked hard and played by the rules for their entire lives. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first,” says Cicilline.

AARP, NCPSSM and aging advocates, now turn their attention to the House and Senate to keep Trump’s draconian budgetary vision out of the final FY 2018 budget. But, voters must also oppose huge cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security entitlement programs and discretionary funding for programs for older Americans at town meetings held by their Congressman and Senators.

Midterm elections will take place on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, All 435 seats in the House and 34 of the 100 senate will be up for grabs. Maybe GOP lawmakers will craft a budget proposal that will benefit their constituents, not support their political party’s policy positions.

CBO Numbers Says GOP Health Plan Benefits Young, Healthy…Not Seniors

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 28, 2017

Weeks ago, the Trump Administration and GOP House leadership mended fences with GOP moderates and conservatives to hammer out a new version of the introduced legislation, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 and replace the Affordable Care Act, called Obamacare Care. The GOP health care proposal with its last-minute changes passed on May 4 by a razor-thin vote of 217-213, a slim margin of four votes. All 193 Democrats opposed passage, along with 20 Republican lawmakers.

With passage, AHCA moved to the Senate for deliberation. Senators considered the House passed health care bill “Dead on Arrival.” But, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly appointed 13 Republican Senators to hammer out their chamber’s health care bill. Political observers doubt whether McConnell has enough votes to pass legislation this year.

Democratic lawmakers and critics of the House’s passed AHCA legislative proposal expressed outrage that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called for a vote, not even waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide an updated financial analysis of the new version of AHCA. The CBO’s cost analysis of the original bill, pulled moments before a scheduled vote on March 24, 2017, found that the GOP health care bill estimated that if passed 24 million or more Americans could be uninsured by 2026.

Now the long-awaited CBO new numbers are finally in for the House GOP passed health care bill.

According to the CBO analysis released on May 24, 2017, 23 million people will lose health insurance in the next decade under the House GOP’s recently passed health care proposal. The CBO analysis concludes that the AHCA benefits the young and healthy at the expense of older and sicker Americans. The report indicates that “near seniors” (aged 50-64) will be hit particularly hard by the GOP healthcare bill. Specifically, net insurance premium costs for low-income seniors would rise by 700 to 847 percent over the next 10 years under House-passed bill. A 64-year-old with an income of $26,500 per year who paid $1,700 annually for an Obamacare policy would now pay a whopping $13,600 under the Republican plan.

Aging Groups Rally Against Flawed GOP Fix to Nation’s Health Coverage

Aging advocates says that CBO’s analysis of the newer version of AHCA again brings to the forefront the flaws of the GOP’s health care coverage fix.

In a statement, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond says the new CBO analysis serves as another example that the House legislation would make harmful changes to the nation’s current health care system. The bill would also hurt older Americans by decreasing the solvency of Medicare, hiking costs for those who can least afford them, eroding seniors’ ability to live independently, and giving tax breaks to big drug companies and health insurance companies, she said.

“AARP reiterates our strong opposition to the harmful bill passed by the House and calls on the Senate to take action by starting a bill from scratch. The CBO analysis found that premiums would go up to unaffordable levels by inflicting an Age Tax and removing current protections for people with common conditions including diabetes and weight gain. Putting a greater financial burden on older Americans is not the way to solve the problems in our health care system,” says LeaMond.

“The CBO report was no surprise to those of us who are looking out for the best interests of older Americans. The GOP leadership was so focused on passing repeal and replace legislation that they failed their due diligence by ignoring an ominous flaw: their bill will drive up seniors’ out-of-pocket costs by repealing subsidies that help defray the cost of premiums,” says Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare in a statement.

The report also confirms that the House bill will only compound the problems faced by near seniors with pre-existing conditions. While an amendment by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) adds $8 billion over five years to fund high-risk pools for patients with pre-existing conditions, that will not be nearly enough to offset the extra costs to seniors, warns Richtman.

According to CBO, “People who are less healthy (including those with pre-existing or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive non-group health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all.”

Seniors who rely on Medicaid will suffer under the GOP’s passed health care bill, said Richtman, noting that the CBO report calculates that the AHCA slashes Medicaid spending by $834 billion. Medicaid currently helps pay for long term care for millions of seniors nationwide.

The CBO estimates that some 14 million Medicaid recipients would lose coverage under the AHCA – or not be able to attain it in the first place – within the next 10 years. In fact, more than half of the increase in uninsured Americans under the AHCA would come from this vulnerable population. In addition, changes to the ACA’s individual market reforms will increase the number of uninsured Americans age 50 to 64 from just over 10 percent under current law to nearly 30 percent, says Richtman.

Richtman charges that the GOP healthcare bill also weakens Medicare by repealing a tax on high wage earners, which would decrease the solvency of the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by three years. Accelerating the exhaustion of the Part A trust fund would likely lead to cuts in Medicare, including privatizing the program, that would be detrimental to current and future beneficiaries.

“The amended American Health Care Act is an assault on the health care of all seniors,” says Richtman. “We can only hope that the Senate will take the CBO’s new figures into consideration – and reverse the provisions that are so demonstrably harmful to our nation’s seniors.”

GOP Defends its Health Care Coverage Fix

As expected, with the release of CBO’s new numbers, the GOP moved quickly to dispute the federal agency’s findings. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel stated “The CBO has a history of being way off in their predictions, often giving a different forecast from actual reality.”

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) got into the verbal fray, blasting the new CBO analysis on FOX Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, calling for “the abolishment of the federal agency.” Gingrich called CBO “a dishonest bureaucratic organization,” suggesting that money might be saved by hiring “outside professional firms, get three to five major scores on bills.”

The Battle on Health Care Reform Moves to the Upper Chamber

On May 22, 2017, more than 75 national organizations recently sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Ranking Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, calling on the Senators to reject AHCA and to engage in “a transparent, bipartisan dialogue on needed reforms to enhance health care access and affordability.” The correspondence gave notice that these organizations strongly opposed provisions in the AHCA that undermined Medicare’s financing and risk access to essential care for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

The correspondence cosigners noted that Obamacare imposed a small tax increase on the highest earners that helped” put Medicare on stronger financial footing. The GOP health care bill’s repeal of this tax would result in lost revenues, causing the Medicare Hospital Insurance (Part A) Trust Fund to become insolvent two years earlier than anticipated. The correspondence also expresses alarm that Congress would knowingly vote to undercut the Trust Fund.

The correspondence also charges that the GOP’s AHCA advances devastating Medicaid cuts—per-capita caps—that threaten access to needed care for the 11 million people with Medicare who also depend on Medicaid. One in five people with Medicare rely on Medicaid to cover vital long-term home care and nursing home services, to help afford their Medicare premiums and cost-sharing, and more.

“Federal cuts to Medicaid…would drive states to make hard choices, likely leading states to scale back benefits, impose waiting lists, implement unaffordable financial obligations, or otherwise restrict access to services,” says the correspondence.

Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said, “A Medicaid cut is a Medicare cut. One in five people with Medicare rely on Medicaid to access home and community-based services and nursing home care that they would otherwise go without. Medicaid is also the lifeline that helps millions of older adults and people with disabilities afford their Medicare premiums and cost-sharing. Per-capita caps are not a viable path forward to support our aging nation; the Senate must start from scratch.”

Adds, Kevin Prindiville, executive director of Justice in Aging. “The AHCA risks the health and financial security of millions of older adults in our families and communities. Slashing the program’s funding by over $800 billion eliminates Medicaid’s 50-year guarantee that older adults can count on Medicaid when they need it the most. We call on the Senate to protect seniors and Medicaid.”

“Simply put, this legislation is not a health care bill,” says Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “A health care bill would strengthen coverage and delivery programs. AHCA gratuitously weakens Medicare, decimates Medicaid, and guts insurance for 24 million people. We urge the Senate to reject this charade and develop a real health care bill that improves coverage and enhances the Affordable Care Act.”

Rhode Islanders Give Tips to Graduates

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 14, 2017

During the month of May, commencement speakers will be addressing the graduating Class of 2017 at Colleges, Universities and higher learning institutions in Rhode Island and throughout the nation. Robed graduating seniors will listen attentively to these 10 minute speeches usually given by very well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities and business CEOs who offer tips on how the graduate can live a successful and fulfilling life. The graduate can only hope that this advice that might just propel them into a more rewarding personal and professional life.

Traditionally this notable, successful, and stimulating figure, is oftentimes well-known in the community. Larger institutions may choose speakers of national or international renown, but sometimes this recognition comes at a great cost, commanding high speaking fees. Locally, Brown University, unique among Ivy League institutions, features graduating seniors, rather than outside dignitaries, as their commencement speakers.

So, I suggest to Presidents of Colleges and Universities, with your tight operating budgets, you can save a little money by not bringing in high-paid commencement speakers with another alternative. As can be seen below, there are many potential candidates in Rhode Island communities that fly below the selection committee’s radar screen and can give college graduates very sound strategies for success gleaned from their everyday life experiences. The messages gleaned from average every day Rhode Islanders will most surely give a road maps on how the graduating senior can reach their potential in a very challenging world.

Eric J. Auger, 48, Pawtucket, Co-Founder/Creative Director for TEN21 Productions. “Having been an active artist and exhibiting my work since the age of 4, I can look back at 44 years of trials and errors that have influenced me to become the artist that I am today. My advice to anyone starting out is to follow your intuition and embrace all the success and failures that it may bring you. Living through and learning from these experiences is what opens your eyes to your true potential.”

Michael Bilow, Providence, Writer at Motif Magazine, “Only you are the ultimate judge of what you want. Take advice from people who want to help you, but don’t worry about pleasing them. Money is important to have enough to be independent, but not as an end in itself. Never take a job or a romantic partner just because others expect it of you. Be nice, but not too nice. Don’t lie to yourself. Worry less. You have a right to be happy.”

Natelie Carter, 73, Cumberland, Director of Operations for Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.
“One of the oldest pieces of wisdom ever dispensed is one that has guided my life “Know Thyself.” It still directs my life that has been filled with remarkable events and few regrets. However, there is the wisdom of Edna St. Vincent Millay to learn from “I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”

Greg Gerritt, 63, Providence, Head of Research for ProsperityForRI.com. “Climate Change is the existential crisis of our time. Be ready to resist the oligarchy when they seek to prevent protest and work to protect their fortunes. Be ready to resist the oligarchy when they crank up the false news and the war machine. If you shut down the war machine and truly stop climate change your lives will be better. If you do not, get ready for a hot and violent planet and community.”

Maureen O’Gorman, Warwick, Adult Correctional Institute GED Teacher. “Meredith Grey, fictional philosophizing doctor said: “The story of our evolution is the story of what we leave behind.” Human tails no longer exist and the appendix isn’t functional. Every choice we make comes at the cost of choices we didn’t make. Reinventing ourselves can’t happen without discarding something behind as we move forward. Honor the past, but do not live in it.”

Nora Hall, 72, North Kingston, freelance writer. “Empathy may be the most important life skill you can develop. It enables you to “put yourself in another’s shoes” and makes you a great leader.”

Everett Hoag, 63, North Providence, President of Fountain Street Creative. “Advice to new artists – Believe in yourself and your work. Explore as many forms as you can. Discover art comes from inside and as long as you have the skills, true art will emerge. Keep creating and create what is true to you, never stop or be discouraged by what others say… Designers — we make the world more beautiful. More functional. Safer. More special. The more of ‘you’ that goes into your work, the more original it becomes; there’s something magical about that.”

John Kevorkian, 63, East Greenwich, Management Psychologist/Business Coach. “Over the years, I’ve noticed that so much of success comes from simply showing up. Be aware, get involved, get engaged with what is important to you. Be there and be! Be truly interested in understanding the other’s viewpoint and situation. Ask questions and listen to learn what you don’t know and then you will be well prepared to confidently voice opinions and be helpful. Be a catalyst. It is easier to make things happen if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Larry Monastesse, 65, Pawtucket, Director of Administration, Coastline Employee Assistant Program (EAP). “Passion and Education is the Key. Mistakes happen- learn from them but do not quit. Keep your goals front and center. Have the courage to follow you heart, it is the true measure of your success. Time is limited, share with family and friends. They will be with you on your lifelong journey. Make time for yourself and give back to society in some form that you are comfortable with and enjoy. Do dream and enjoy the ride.”

Steven R. Porter, 52, Glocester, A college diploma is treated like the end of an educational learning journey, but truthfully, it’s just the start. Those who will be the most successful in life never stop reading, studying or acquiring new skills. The world is a rapidly changing place, and higher education does a good job of preparing you for what the world was like, not what the world is going to be. Stay positive and aggressive.

Debra Rossetti, over 50, Central Falls, Staff Developer/Literacy, New York City Department of Education. “You can and will make a difference in our society and world, This day is a special and important milestone in your life. You have accomplished much to be standing where you are now, but your journey has just begun. You have much more to do and challenges to bear in your years ahead. Transform yourself in to the person you aspire to be, be ready for change, think forward and move forward. Continue to educate yourself. Life is a journey with lessons to learn at every corner. Take advantage of opportunities to grow your mind and pursue your dreams. Believe in yourself, believe in others, always be humble and kind.”

Randy Sacilotto, 55, Cumberland, Navigant Credit Unions, Vice President, Community Development. “My mom told me to remember to love people and use things, never the other way around. This may seem pretty simple and logical. Yet there are times we may want to do the reverse. Remember that it is by genuine caring interaction with another human soul that we learn and laugh and grow. And nothing you will own will ever visit you when you’re sick, hold you when you’re sad, or celebrate your accomplishments.”

Susan Sweet, 75, Rumford, former state employee. “Make your own trail and avoid the well-worn path. Find interests and passions and live them. Create purpose in your life. Do something good, something useful in your life. Contribute to the happiness and well-being of other beings. Let Death be your advisor.”

Patricia Zacks, 63, Pawtucket, Owner of Camera Werks: Never be afraid of trying new things. Hardships and setbacks are part of life, but it is how we deal with them that can make all the difference. Obstacles may be opportunities in disguise, and change oftentimes leads to new roads, exciting journeys and a time of self discovery. Follow your bliss.

GOP Health Care Reform Moves to Senate

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 7, 2017

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s words are now coming back to haunt him and GOP leadership that rammed American Health Care Act (AHCA), without procedural safeguards, through the House chamber days ago. “I don’t think we should pass bills that we haven’t read that we don’t know what they cost,” said Ryan in a 2009 interview on MSNBC when Congress was debating President Obama’s 1990-page Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare.

Last month, the Trump Administration efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, with the American Health Care Act (AHCA) went down in flames when so many GOP moderates and conservative House lawmakers opposed the bill that the leadership didn’t dare bring it up for a vote. Successful negotiations of the GOP factions crafted a new version that passed last Thursday by a razor-thin vote of 217-213, a slim margin of four votes. All 193 Democrats opposed passage, along with 20 Republican lawmakers. With House passage, the bill moves to the Senate for deliberation.

Before the House vote on the GOP health bill there were no legislative hearings held to debate its merits and its full text was posted on the Web less than 24 hours before the vote. Ryan did not even wait for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide an updated financial analysis of AHCA. The CBO’s analysis of the original bill, pulled moments before a scheduled vote on March 24, 2017, found that the GOP health care proposal estimated that if passed 24 million or more Americans could be uninsured by 2026.

Opposition Mounting to GOP Health Care Proposal

With the passage of AHCA, Democratic Policy and Communication Committee Co-Chair David N. Cicilline (D-RI) issued the following statement, saying “This is the cruelest and most immoral thing I’ve seen the Republican Party do to the American people. They just passed a bill that they know will result in the deaths of thousands of working people each year. I don’t know how they sleep at night.”

“All you need to know about this bill is that Republicans tried to exempt themselves from coverage [of the GOP health care proposal]] before they got caught. That’s because they know it’s a raw deal,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. This legislation sets us on a path to the bad old days when insurance companies could refuse coverage to those with preexisting conditions and deny people health benefits that should be in every plan – like ‎maternity and mental health care, he says.

Whitehouse warns that AHCA’s passage will leave millions of Americans without access to affordable health insurance. “Rhode Islanders rely on the Affordable Care Act and it’s working here. If they want to improve it, that’s one thing, but this House bill will hurt Rhode Islanders,

Within hours of the House vote on AHCA, a joint statement was issued by six prestigious national medical organizations (American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Psychiatric Association American and the American Osteopathic Association), representing over 560,000 physicians and medical students, denouncing the GOP health bill. Dozens of other state and national health care organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association and American Hospital Association (and this number grows daily) also gave a thumb down on the Republican health bill that is considered “unworkable and flawed.”

Aging advocacy groups came out swinging, too.

AARP, representing 38 million members and considered to be one of the nation’s most powerful aging lobbying groups, plans to hold GOP House lawmakers accounting for their support of AHCA while gearing up to oppose the Republican health care proposal in the Senate.

In a statement, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond reiterated AARP’s opposition to the GOP health bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, calling it “flawed” and warning that the legislative proposal “would harm American families who count on access to affordable health care.”

LeaMond says, “the bill will put an Age Tax on us as we age, harming millions of American families with health insurance, forcing many to lose coverage or pay thousands of dollars more for health care. In addition, the bill now puts at risk the 25 million older adults with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer and diabetes, who would likely find health care unaffordable or unavailable to them.”

According to LeaMond, AARP will continue its opposition of AHCA as it moves for Senate consideration because it “includes an Age Tax on older Americans, eliminates critical protections for those with pre-existing conditions, puts coverage at risk for millions, cuts the life of Medicare, erodes seniors’ ability to live independently, and gives sweetheart deals to big drug and insurance companies while doing nothing to lower the cost of prescriptions.

LeaMond warns, “We promised to hold members of Congress accountable for their vote on this bill. True to our promise, AARP is now letting its 38 million members know how their elected Representative voted on this health bill in The Bulletin, a print publication that goes to all of our members, as well as through emails, social media, and other communications.”

Medicaid Takes a Major Blow

“The bill threatens the very heart of the Medicaid program, taking away the guarantee that Medicaid will be there when seniors need it most. By slashing Medicaid funding by over $800 billion, the AHCA will place tremendous strain on state budget, says Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director of Justice in Aging, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income seniors. “States will be forced to cut services, restrict eligibility, and reduce benefits for seniors, children, people with disabilities, and low-income older adults, he says.

“Congress is forcing families to pay more out-of-pocket when grandparents and other loved ones need nursing home care or home care. Two-thirds of all Medicaid spending for older adults pays for long-term services and supports. The AHCA puts this vital care for seniors in jeopardy,” says Prindiville. “By passing the ACHA, the House chose to cut taxes for the wealthy and pharmaceutical companies while harming Medicare beneficiaries by increasing Part B premiums and reducing the life of the Medicare Trust Fund, he says.

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare calls the AHCA vote “appalling” for retirees and views the “raid of Medicare, cuts to Medicaid among the most problematic parts of the AHCA.”

“Despite the bill’s name, risking the health of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens to give the wealthy an $ 600 billion tax cut is tremendously uncaring — and does not reflect real American values,” says Richtman. In modifying the original AHCA bill to give reluctant Republicans political cover, the House leadership made a bad piece of legislation even worse,” he says.

No Protection for Pre-existing Conditions

“Recent amendments to this cruel, ill-advised bill could put coverage for older Americans with pre-existing conditions like cancer and diabetes out of reach. The $8 billion (over 5 years) added to the legislation at the last minute to defray the cost of higher premiums is woefully inadequate. It’s a thin veil that covers a head of snakes,” notes Richtman

“Equally inadequate are the meager tax credits that the GOP bill offers older Americans to buy insurance. A $4,000 annual tax credit doesn’t come to close to covering premiums for seniors ages 60-64, meaning millions of older Americans will lose coverage altogether,” says Richtman.

According to Richtman, AHCA slashes nearly $1 trillion from the Medicaid by converting the social health care program into a block grant program or imposing per capita caps. “This would make it harder for impoverished seniors to access long term skilled nursing care and community or home care. Overall, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 14 million people will be kicked off the Medicaid rolls in the next 10 years if this bill becomes law,” he says.

Richtman observes that the enactment of AHCA would reduce Medicare’s solvency by repealing Obamacare’s 0.9 percent payroll tax on wages above $200,000. This could lead to cuts in Medicare, including privatizing the program — harming current and future beneficiaries, he says.

“Under the GOP bill, insurers can charge older enrollees five times more than younger ones. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that by 2026 this provision will substantially raise premiums for older people by as much as 25 percent,” notes Richtman.

Senate Becomes New AHCA Battle Ground

After the politically decisive House vote to pass AHCA, President Donald Trump and House GOP lawmakers celebrated their major political victory at the White House Rose Garden claiming that they had fulfilled a promise made 7 years ago to repeal and replace Obamacare. But this celebration was short lived. Like House Democratic lawmakers, Democratic and Republican Senators began voicing their skepticism and strong opposition to the House’s passed health bill. Holding a slim 52-to-48 advantage in the upper chamber, GOP Senate Leadership must craft a bill that can win the support of at least 50 of their caucus members.

Washington insiders are now reporting that the House’s unpopular AHCA is “Dead on Arrival” in the Senate. Senate Republicans say they will not vote on the House passed bill and the upper chamber is expected to move slowly in crafting its health bill, starting from scratch. Many GOP Senators opposed AHCA, especially those who want to protect their constituents with pre-existing conditions and others who represent states that have expanded their Medicaid program under Obamacare.

A group of 13 Republican Senators (all men) have begun the process of hammering out their own health bill. Senate rules do not allow a review of the legislation or the determination of the rules of the debate until the CBO provides its official fiscal impact estimate. Because of this the health policy debate may not begin until summer.

Hopefully, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, and his partisan working group will reach across the aisle to Democratic Senators to assist in crafting a bipartisan solution. Won’t that be refreshing.

Experts Say Isolation and Loneliness Impacting More Older Americans

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 30, 2017

Sarah Hosseini, a blogger on Scary Mommy, a website bringing entertainment and information to millennial mothers, penned a touching story about Marleen Brooks, a California resident, who came home to find a heartbreaking hand-written note from Wanda, her 90-year-old neighbor, asking her to be friends.

Wanda wrote: “Would you consider to become my friend. I’m 90 years old – live alone. All my friends have passed away. I’m so lonesome and scared. Please I pray for someone.”

According to Hosseini’s blog posting, Brooks shared this note with KTVU News Anchor Frank Somerville, who posted it on his Facebook page. She responded to the posting by saying, “Came home to this note from a lady that lives down the street from me. Makes my heart sad, but on the bright side it looks like I will be getting a new friend.”

That evening Brooks visited her new friend, bearing a gift of cupcakes. After the visit, she wrote to Somerville describing this initial visit (which was posted on his Facebook page), says Hosseini. In this update posting, Brooks observed, “She’s such as sweet lady! And she was over the moon when we came over.” Brooks reported what Wanda said during the impromptu get together: “I hope you didn’t think I was stupid for writing you, but I had to do something. Thank you so much for coming over. I’ve lived here for 50 years and don’t know any of my neighbors.”

Wanda shared with her new acquaintance that she is on oxygen has congestive heart failure, osteoporosis and other age-related ailments, and her two surviving sons do not live by her,” noted Hosseini’s blog posting.

Zeroing in on a Growing Societal Problem

Wanda’s isolation and loneliness is not a rare occurrence. It happens every day throughout the nation. The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging recently put a spotlight on the growing number of Americans who are socially isolated and lonely, like Wanda, and expert witnesses detailed the negative consequences of this tragic societal problem.

In Room 403 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Bob Casey, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, held a morning hearing on April 27, 2017, “Aging Without Community: The Consequences of Isolation and Loneliness.”

he Senate Aging panel hearing (lasting almost two hours), the first in a two-part series, took a close look at the mental and physical health effects of social isolation and loneliness. The next hearing will explore ways to reconnect older people to their communities.

“The consequences of isolation and loneliness are severe: negative health outcomes, higher health care costs, and even death. The root problem is one that we can solve by helping seniors keep connected with communities,” said Senator Collins in her opening statement. “Just as we did when we made a national commitment to cut smoking rates in this country, we should explore approaches to reducing isolation and loneliness. Each has a real impact on the health and well-being of our seniors,” noted the Maine Republican Senator.

Adds, Senator Bob Casey, “Older Americans are vital to the prosperity and well-being of our nation.” The Democratic Senator said, “Our work on the Aging Committee to ensure that we all remain connected to community as we age is important to maintaining that vitality. It is for that reason that we, as a federal government, need to sustain and improve our investments in programs that help seniors stay connected — from Meals on Wheels to rural broadband to transportation services.”

When approached for her thoughts about the Senate Aging panel, Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer said, “We know that social isolation and loneliness has severe negative effects on older Americans and we’re pleased the US Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing on this important issue. As they explore solutions for social isolation and loneliness amongst older Americans, AARP looks forward to working with them on these issues in 2017.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says, “When seniors get involved, the community benefits from their valuable contributions. And the personal connections seniors make engaging in the community can help them stay healthy and productive.” Whitehouse, who sits on the Senate Aging panel, will work to protect funding for senior centers and programs that Rhode Island seniors rely on to stay connected, like Meals on Wheels and Senior Corps.”

Social Isolation is a “Silent Killer”

Speaking before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging today, social work professor Lenard W. Kaye, DSW, PhD, urged lawmakers to support programs that help older adults stay connected to their communities.

Kaye serves as director of the University of Maine Center on Aging. Joining three other experts, he reported to the committee that social isolation is a “silent killer” — due to placing people at higher risk for a variety of poor health outcomes — and he warned that more Americans are living in isolation than ever before.

“The prevalence may be as high as 43 percent among community dwelling older adults,” Kaye said. “And the risk is high as well for caregivers of older adults given that caregiving can be a very isolating experience.”

Kaye’s testimony also highlighted the state of current research in solving the problem of social isolation among older adults.

“Due to the various life events that can trigger social isolation, from death of a significant other, to loss of transportation to health decline, effective interventions will need to be diverse and they will need to be tailored to the personal circumstances of the isolated individual,” he said.

Kaye added that there is still significant progress to be made in determining what works for helping to reduce social isolation. Lack of rigor in studies of interventions aimed at reducing loneliness can make it difficult to evaluate some of these strategies.

In Pima County, 46 percent of nearly 2,300 seniors surveyed in its 2016 community needs assessment cited social isolation as a significant concern of those living alone, said W. Mark Clark, president of the Pima Council on Aging.

In his testimony, Clark says, “Changes to mobility, cognitive ability or health status can cause an individual to hold back from previously enjoyed social activities. Older adults in rural areas who can no longer driver are at incredible risk of physical and social isolation unless transportation options are available.”

“While aging at home is cited as a top priority by a majority of older people, and doing so has both emotional and economic benefits, aging in place at home can also lead to isolation,” said Clark, noting that connections to the community wane as one gets older due to less opportunities to build new social networks.

In her testimony, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology researcher at Brigham Young University, estimated that over 8 million seniors are affected by isolation and social disconnect is increasing.

Holt-Lunstad told the Senators that research shows that social isolation and loneliness is as dangerous as being obese, as risky as smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day. and associated with higher rates of heart disease, a weakened immune system, anxiety, dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and nursing facility admissions.

Finally, Witness Rick Creech, who was born with cerebral palsy, shared to the Senate Aging panel how disabilities can isolate a person. He described how an alternative communication (AAC) device, costing $10,000, a van concerted for a powered wheel chair passenger and smart home equipment to help him grow a “productive, independent adult.”

Meals on Wheels Program Vital Program for Isolated Seniors

It was clear to Senate Aging panel members and to expert witnesses that local Meals on Wheels programs can bring good nutrition and companionship to older American’s reducing social isolation and loneliness. Over two years ago, a Brown University study confirmed another benefit of visitors regularly knocking on the doors of seniors in need: a significant reduction in their feelings of loneliness.

“This continues to build the body of evidence that home-delivered meals provide more than nutrition and food security,” said study lead author Kali Thomas, assistant professor of health services, policy and practice in the Brown University School of Public Health and a researcher at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Thomas, a former Meal on Wheels volunteer said that the study is one of few to rigorously examine the long-presumed psychological benefits of home-delivered meal service. She believes it is the first randomized, controlled trial to assess the effect on loneliness, which has been linked by many studies to a greater risk for medical problems, health care utilization, and mortality.

“In a time when resources are being further constrained and demand is increasing, it is important that we have evidence that guides decision-making in terms of what services to provide and how best to provide them,” Thomas said.

Senator Susan Collins, chair of the U.S. Select Senate Committee on Aging, sees Meals on Wheels as policy strategy to address the growing number of isolated seniors and their loneliness. At the Senate Aging panel, Collins said, “For many, Meals on Wheels is not just about food – it’s about social sustenance, also. Seniors look forward to greeting the driver with a bit of conversation.” And the Republican Senator called for adequate funding to the nationwide Meals on Wheels network, comprising 5,000 local community-based programs. President Trump’s proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels were, “pennywise and pound foolish because in the end they’re going to cause more hospitalizations, more nursing home admissions, and poor health outcomes.”

Like Brooks, we should reach out to our older isolated neighbors in our community. A simple gesture like this can have a lasting, positive impact on both parties.