Caregivers Taking Care of Persons with Dementia Have Unique Needs

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 9, 2018

Being a caregiver 24/7 to a person in relatively good health is a tough job. But, caring for someone with dementia, becomes a 36 hour, say Authors Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, in their ground-breaking book (published in 1981) on providing care for those with the devastating mental disorder.

The Washington, DC-based AARP releases survey findings last month that takes a look at this “unique subset of caregivers” who are taking care of persons with dementia and other cognitive disorders. Caregiving takes a physical, and emotional toll on these individuals, forcing them to put in longer hours providing care and making adjustments at work and in their personal relationships, says the findings of the newly released study.

The AARP online national survey (of caregivers 18 and older) takes a look at the demands on 700 caregivers taking care of persons with dementia or other forms of cognitive impairments (most often their parents), as well as 400 caregivers who were providing care for a loved one without dementia. Regardless of the situation, on average, caregivers report having been caring for their loved one for almost 3 years.

“Family caregivers take on big responsibilities that can be physically, emotionally and financially challenging. AARP’s new research shows that this can be particularly true for those caring for loved ones with dementia,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, in a statement released with the study report, Caring for People with Dementia: Caregivers’ Experiences. “That’s why AARP has developed resources to help family caregivers balance their own needs with the needs of their loved one,” adds LeaMond.

The AARP Study Found…

Obviously, it is time consuming to be a caregiver. The AARP Survey’s findings, released on November 30, 2018, found that 7 in 10 of those surveyed spend less time with friends and more than half spend less time with other family members because of the intensity of caregiving responsibilities While 75 percent of the survey respondents reported that caring for someone with dementia has brought about closer relationships and more meaning to their lives, the findings also indicate that caregiving experiences bring greater challenges to their lives, too.

According to the 26-page AARP report’s findings, those caring for persons with dementia (more likely a parent) spend on average 13.7 hours per week caregiving while caregivers, taking care of persons with no cognitive afflictions, spend 11.7 hours (more likely a spouse or partner or a friend or neighbor). Three in ten of the caregiver respondents (over age 35) spend over 21 hours per week caregiving, says Study’s findings.

Most of the caregiver respondents providing care to persons with dementia see the devastating disorder’s slowly progressing over time. But younger caregivers perceive that the onset of cognitive decline as suddenly happening.

About 32 percent of the caregiver respondents providing more intense caregiving to persons with dementia say managing their emotions and the demands of care (26 percent) they deliver as the biggest challenges the face.

Caregivers taking care of persons with dementia also reported negative health behaviors. They slept less (71 percent), had more anxiety (65 percent) and depression (54 percent), and spent less time on themselves and with their friends. Research studies reveal that social isolation and loneliness are linked to poorer physical and mental health outcomes.

Not only are the millions of family caregivers for those with dementia less socially connected, they are significantly more likely to put off medical care – over half (55 percent) have done so, compared to just 38 percent among the total caregiver population. However, there were positive health behaviors identified in the poll as well – 79 percent took steps to maintain or improve their brain health and 47 percent exercised more.

About 62 percent of those taking care of persons with dementia state that their intense caregiving responsibilities have led them to working different hours, leaving work early (62 percent) or take paid (53 percent) and unpaid time off (47 percent) for caregiving duties, and also worry about their finances.

But, two-thirds of all caregivers surveyed say they feel closer to their loved one, but those taking care of persons with dementia were more likely to say their relationship with their loved one over time had grown further apart (22 percent) than others. Those caregivers of persons with dementia were more likely to say the relationship with other family has been strained.

Finally, caregiver respondents say that they are receiving what they need from health care providers yet those caring for someone with dementia also have sought out more information about caregiving and from a greater variety of sources.

The AARP survey was conducted October 1-10, 2018. Data are weighted by income, gender, and age according to caregiver benchmarks obtained in Caregiving in the U.S. (2015).

Finding Caregiver Resources

AARP helps family caregivers find the information and support they need to manage their own care along with their loved one’s care. Go to http://www.aarp.org/caregiving for more resources and information on family caregiving, including AARP’s Dementia Care Guide and the Community Resource Finder.

For more info, contact AARP Researcher G. Oscar Anderson at ganderson@aarp.org.

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Report Details Ways to Improve Guardianship System in US

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 2, 2018

Just days ago, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held an afternoon hearing in the Senate Dirksen Office Building to alert Congress to appalling stories gathered across the nation regarding abusive guardianships that are taking advantage of vulnerable older adults. At this hearing the Senate Aging Committee also released its annual report that takes a look at an examination of guardianship arrangements including research and recommendations on ways to improve the nation’s guardianship system.

Although guardians provide a valuable and essential service for many older Americans, from deciding where an individual will live and when to seek medical care to choosing if family members are allowed to visit and how to spend retirement savings, unscrupulous guardians acting with little oversight have used legal guardianship proceedings to obtain control of vulnerable individuals and have then used that power to liquidate assets and life-time savings for their own personal gains.

Last April, the Committee held the first hearing in a two-part series this year on the abuse of power and exploitation of older Americans by guardians. The Committee also held a hearing on guardianship in 2016. The Nov. 28th hearing is a continuation of the Committee’s longstanding commitment to bring awareness and prevention to the financial exploitation of older Americans.

Putting the Spotlight on Unscrupulous Guardians

U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, put the legislative spotlight on this important legal issue and released the Committee’s 34-page report at the Wednesday hearing titled, “Ensuring Trust: Strengthening State Efforts to Overhaul the Guardianship Process and Protect Older Americans.”

The released Senate Aging Committee report is the culmination of a year-long examination of ways in which the legal system can be improved to better protect individuals subject to these and similar arrangements from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It addresses three key areas – the importance of guardianship oversight, alternatives to guardianship, and the need for improved data and it makes 13 recommendations.

“An estimated 1.3 million adults are under the care of guardians – family members or professionals – who control approximately $50 billion of their assets,” said Collins, in her opening statement. “Guardianship is a legal relationship created by a court that is designed to protect those with diminished or lost capacity. We found, however, that in many cases, the system lacks basic protections leaving the most vulnerable Americans at risk of exploitation.,” she said.

“While most guardians act in the best interest of the individual they care for, far too often, we have heard horror stories of guardians who have abused, neglected or exploited a person subject to guardianship. As our report notes, there are persistent and widespread problems with guardianship arrangements nationwide,” says Casey in his opening statement. “This is why Senator Collins and I introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act to begin reforming the guardianship system to ensure the protection of seniors under guardian care from losing their rights, savings or possessions because a guardian abused their power,” he said.

Fixing the Nation’s Guardianship System

The Senate Aging Committee took testimony from four guardianship experts who gave their thoughts as to how to improve the system.

Cate Boyko, Senior Court Research Associate at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), explained that the state court data it collected revealed that none of the states was able to fully report all the information on guardianships they requested. They found that the most serious issues involved local court authority, lack of standardized reporting, and limited technology.

Bethany Hamm, Acting Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, provided background information on the state’s Adult Protect Services and public guardianship program. Hamm discussed Maine Uniform Probate Code (UPC) enacted during the state’s last legislative session. The Maine UPC takes effect in July of next year and requires private guardians to report annually on the condition of the adult and account for money and other property in guardians’ possession or subject to guardians’ control.

Karen Buck, Executive Director at the Pennsylvania-based SeniorLAW Center, a nonprofit legal services agency, described the work her organization does to tackle issues such as guardianship through free legal representation, education, and advocacy for older Americans in Pennsylvania. She argued that guardianship remains an “important tool” to provide care for vulnerable seniors and therefore merits attention and reform.

Finally, Barbara Buckley, Executive Director at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, described the steps that her state has taken since 2014 to better protect individuals under guardianship. One year later, the Nevada Supreme Court created a Guardianship Commission to examine the guardianship system and recommend reforms., she said, detailing three significant areas of reform implemented in Nevada: the right to counsel, the protected person’s Bill of Rights and other statutory reforms, and the establishment of the Guardianship Compliance Office.

As a result of the Senate Aging Committee’s work to examine issues surrounding guardianship, Collins and Casey announced at this hearing that they were introducing the Guardianship Accountability Act. This bipartisan legislation would promote information sharing among courts and local organizations as well as state and federal agencies, encourage the use of background checks and less restrictive alternatives to guardianship, and expand the availability of federal grants to improve the guardianship system.

Congress Must Act

One of the report’s recommended actions to strengthen guardianship arrangements is for courts to conduct criminal background checks on ALL prospective guardians. To aid states in this pursuit, Casey and Collin’s legislation, the “Guardianship Accountability Act,” promotes oversight of guardianship arrangements and encourages information sharing among government agencies and with other relevant organizations. This bill would also allow states to fund data collection on guardianship arrangements and conduct background checks on guardians.

According to the National Center for State Courts, there are approximately 1.3 million adults and an estimated $50 billion of assets under guardianship arrangements. State courts are tasked with monitoring guardianships in order to protect individuals subject to guardianship from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Despite this responsibility, few states are able to provide courts with adequate resources to monitor guardianships effectively and hold guardians accountable.

When the new Congress begins, hopefully this legislation will sail through both chambers of Congress and be quickly signed by President Donald Trump. We will see…

To get the Senate Aging Committee’s guardianship report, go to http://www.aging.senate.
gov/imo/media/doc/Guardianship%20Report.pdf.

For a copy of the Guardianship Accountability Act, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/
Guardianship%20Accountability%20Act%20of%202018.pdf.

To watch the one hour and forty-seven-minute Senate Aging Committee hearing, go to http://www.aging.senate.
gov/hearings/ensuring-trust-strengthening-state-efforts-to-overhaul-the-guardianship-process-and-protect-older-americans.

AARP Survey Gives a Snapshot of Midterm Election Results

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 25, 2018

Before November 6, President Donald J. Trump and Congressional Republicans rolled the dice betting on what midterm election issues would propel them to a midterm election victory in retaining control of Congress. But the results were a mixed bag. While maintaining a majority in the Senate, the GOP lost control of the lower chamber.

Many were surprised that the Republican-controlled White House and Congress did not tout an improved national economy, but chose to focus their campaign attack ads on the intense Democratic attack on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s character during his Supreme Court nomination hearing, a caravan of thousands of immigrants marching to the U.S.-Mexico border to escape poverty and violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and law and order. Democrats put their chips on access to health care, Social Security, Medicare, and putting the brakes on skyrocketing prescription drug costs.

Although the GOP maintained control in the Senate (by a majority of 52 to 47), voters put the Democrats in control of the House, with the winning of 232 seats, reaching the magical number of 218 seats, required to take control of the chamber.

Health Care a Key Issue for Voters in Midterm Election

Just days ago, the Washington, DC-based AARP released findings of a national poll of general election voters, along with over samples in both 39 GOP-held seats that flipped to a Democrat and 37 GOP-held seats targeted as competitive by the Cook Political Report that held for the GOP.

AARP’s bipartisan post-election poll, fielded jointly by Fabrizio Ward and Benenson Strategy Group, found that, for 50-plus voters, Social Security, Medicare, and health care were their top midterm issues, pushing them to vote. The 2,800-voter survey (of General Election voters) also indicated age 50 and over voters across the board are also concerned about bipartisan bickering and gridlock inside the Washington, DC – Beltway, saying they favored a candidate who will work across the aisle.

“Older Americans were crystal clear that health care was the most important issue in this election,” said John Hishta, AARP Senior Vice President of Campaigns in a statement announcing the release of the 22-page report detailing survey findings on November 16. “They want Congress to come together to find commonsense solutions to lowering health care costs and they can start by preventing drug companies from price gouging older Americans and all taxpayers.,” says Hishta.

Adds Tony Fabrizio, of Fabrizio Ward, “Fifty plus voters chose Donald Trump by a wide margin two years ago. This year they were instrumental in Democrats retaking the House. They have become a formidable swing voting block for 2020.”

“This election made it clear that candidates and parties can’t build a winning-coalition without older Americans – or take their vote for granted.” said Amy Levin, Partner Benenson Strategy Group.

Taking a Closer Look…

The AARP survey revealed that while voter survey respondents under age 50 were more likely to identify as Independents, those age 50 and over were most likely to affiliate as either Democrat or Republican.

According to the AARP survey, for age 50-plus voters, concerns about Social Security (83 percent), Medicare (79 percent) and health care (79 percent) were their top midterm issues. However, younger voters find education (67 percent), health care (64 percent) and the economy (66 percent) to be most important to them.

The findings clearly show that the surveyed voters sent a message at the polls on November 6 that they want Democrats and Republicans to govern and not to not get mired down in political gridlock. In GOP-held districts that Democrats flipped, 63 percent of the age 50 and over voters wanted elected officials to work in a bipartisan manner. For districts the GOP held, 65 percent of voters felt the same way. While voters of both political parties expect more political gridlock, younger voters surveyed were even more pessimistic when compared to age 50 voters that this could happen.

AARP’s post-midterm election survey revealed that a pink wave was key in electing Democratic candidates, say the pollsters. Age 50 and over women were instrumental in the Democrat’s in gaining House seats — they favored a Democrat for House by 12 percent in the districts Democrats flipped.

The AARP survey found that the majority of survey respondents approved many of Trump’s policies, while almost 2/3 disapproved of him personally. The pollsters also noted that in districts held by the GOP, 55 percent of age 50-plus voters approved of President Donald Trump’s policies and 38 percent approve of him personally.

But the AARP survey revealed that voters nationally and in Dem Flips wanted a check on Trump, especially the independent voters. Obviously, GOP Hold
districts voters were more favorable to Senate and House candidates who supported Trump ‘s policy agenda. Age 50 and over voters wanted a check on Trump (by 6-points), this being smaller than the margin of voters under age 50.

Both Democratic flips and GOP Hold Districts were whiter and older than the nation as a whole, but Democratic Flips took places in districts that were more suburban, educated and affluent. But, key to the Democratic national successes in both the Dem Flip & GOP Hold segments was Independents age 50 and over voting Democrat by double digit margins across the board.

Meanwhile, while less Democratic friendly than voters under age 50, those age 50 and over narrowly favored the Democratic candidate both nationwide and in districts Democrats flipped from Republicans. And, their support for Republican candidates in the GOP Hold districts helped Republican losses from being even worse.

In October, AARP released, a 52-page report, “2018 Mid-Term Election Voter Issue Survey,” that found that the majority of those surveyed said that they would vote for candidates that supported lowering health care costs, strengthening and reforming Social Security and Medicare, putting the brakes to skyrocketing prescription drug costs. AARP’s post-election survey clearly mirrors these priorities.

With the 116th Congress convenes on January 3, 2019, Republican and Democratic lawmakers along with President Trump must work to put aside their political differences and govern by crafting bipartisan legislation that benefits the nation. As can be seen by AARP’s bipartisan post-election survey, voters demand this.

For more details on the survey’s findings, call Colby Nelson at (202) 434-2584 or email, cnelson@aarp.org.

Cicilline to Reintroduce Resolution to Reestablish House Aging Committee

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 18, 2018

In October 1992, the House eliminated the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging charged with investigating and putting a spotlight on aging policy. The Committee was instrumental in conducting research and publishing a number of reports on elder abuse, leading to the passage of reform legislation intended to improve nursing home operations and reduce abuse against patients. The Committee’s work also led to increased home care benefits for the aging, establishing research and care centers for Alzheimer’s Disease, and many other accomplishments on a broad array of aging issues.

Over 26 years later, on March 1, 2016, Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced his House resolution 160 to reestablish the Committee. He would attract Rhode Island Congressman James R. Langevin (D-RI) and 23 other cosigners (no Republicans) out of 435 lawmakers, but would ultimately see no legislative action taken. “I discussed this proposal with Speaker Paul Ryan (R- WI) and followed up with a letter asking him to move forward with this idea, but he declined to do so.”

“I think many of my Democratic colleagues didn’t think this resolution would get much traction with a Republican controlled House, but we did get Seniors Task Force Co-Chairs, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), which was important,” says the Rhode Island Congressman.

A New Opportunity with a House Democratic Majority

With a Republican-controlled Congress successfully blocking Cicilline’s simple resolution from reaching the floor for a vote, the Democratic lawmaker says he will reintroduce House resolution 160 in the new Congress with the Democrats controlling the chamber’s legislative agenda. “With Democrats in the majority, I think there will be more interest from other members in this resolution,” he says, noting, “We will try to make this a bipartisan effort and hope to find Republicans who would be supportive.

“I will first reintroduce the resolution [in the new Congress] and build support from members and then present the proposal to my House leadership. We will try to make this a bipartisan effort and hope to find Republicans who would be supportive,” says Cicilline, noting that he will reach out to aging groups for support, including the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations, whose leadership includes Alliance for Retired Americans, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and AARP.

“Of course, I would be honored to lead the reestablished House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, but that decision will be made by the incoming Speaker,” says Cicilline.

According to Cicilline, the House can readily create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee by approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other aspects. Funding would be up to the Appropriations Committee. Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

Cicilline says that a newly established House Permanent Select Committee on Aging would be charged to conduct comprehensive studies on aging policy issues, funding priorities and trends. As its predecessor, its efforts would not be limited by narrow jurisdictional boundaries of the standing committee but broadly at targeted aging policy issues.

“Our nation’s seniors deserve dedicated attention by lawmakers to consider the legislative priorities that affect them, including strengthening Social Security and Medicare, reducing the costs of prescription drugs, and the particular challenges of poverty, housing, long-term care, and other important issues,” adds Cicilline.

Aging Advocates Call for Reestablishing the House Select Committee on Aging

When Max Richtman, CEO and President of the Washington, D.C-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), and former Staff Director of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, heard of Cicilline’s efforts to bring back the House Select Committee on Aging almost three years ago, he remarked, “It’s long overdue.” The Select Committee will once again provide serious oversight and lay the ground work for House legislative proposals impacting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he said.

Richtman says that NCPSSM has just joined a working group to push for the reestablishment of the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging spearheaded by Howard Bedlin of the National Council on Aging. This group will devise strategies to resurrect the Committee, adds Richtman.

Richard Fiesta, Executive Director at the Alliance for Retired Americans, whose organization chairs the LCAO, representing over 70 aging groups, says that its membership voted this month to support and push for the reestablishment of the House Select Committee on Aging. “Members during the discussion expressed views that the Committee can be a focal point on aging issues such as such as Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, long term care, and prescription drug prices,” says Fiesta, noting that it could provide important oversight on the U.S. Administration of Aging programs and be a forum for emerging issues such as home care needs.

“With 10,000 American turning age 65 each day, a Select Committee on Aging would be an important step in addressing the needs of older Americans,” says Fiesta.

Bill Benson, a former staff director of the Subcommittee on Housing and Consumer Interests, one of the four subcommittees of the House Select Committee on Aging, concurs with Richtman that the establishing the Committee is “long overdue.”

“During the 26 years we’ve been without the House counterpart to the Senate Special Committee on Aging,” which Benson also served on, “the House has not had an equivalent powerful voice for advancing critical issues for an aging society as we’ve had in the Senate. To successfully improve national policy requires both chambers of the Congress to be fully engaged. Restoring the House Select Committee on Aging would be important to do that.”

Howard Bedlin, National Council on Aging Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy, adds: “A House Select Committee on Aging will raise visibility of the challenges older Americans are facing every day and support the work of authorizing committees to craft bipartisan policy solutions. Aging is an issue for all Americans. Discussion about the systemic strains that come with longevity and a growing aging population, or highlighting the many intergenerational needs of families across the country can only lead to better understanding and ultimately better support for all Americans as we age.”

Taking an Important Step to Protecting Seniors

As Cicilline gears up to put together the bipartisan support to pass his reintroduced to reestablish the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, he says, “Overall, this resolution represents an important step towards protecting our seniors and the benefits they have earned, like Social Security and Medicare.”

“The reestablishment of this Select Committee on Aging would emphasize Congress’ commitment to our current and future seniors and would allow us to focus our energy to ensure that they are able to live with dignity and enjoy a high quality of life,” he adds.

A Washington insider tells me that some Democratic House lawmakers and aging groups are now pushing to reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging through new rules enacted by the incoming House Democratic leadership. The Washington, DC-based LCAO can now play a pivotal role in reestablishing the House Select Committee by advocating for and supporting Cicilline’s resolution that will be introduced in the next Congress or backing the attempt to change House rules. As the House takes up in the new Congress its debates on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, and other issues of importance to older adults, it will be important to have a House Select Committee that once again puts the spotlight and attention on America’s aging issues.

Midterm Elections are Here: Your Vote Sends a Message to Congress

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 11, 2018

The mid-term elections are here and Americans have an opportunity, if they choose to vote, to send a strong message to Capitol Hill about what policy issues are important to them. All 435 Congressional seats are on the ballot including 35-Senate seats. The outcome of these political races will ultimately impact older Americans. Will Congressional lawmakers work to ensure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, or protect those with pre-existing conditions? Or will they put political differences aside to craft legislation that will put the brakes to spiraling prescription drug costs.

Last month, AARP released, a 52-page report, “2018 Mid-Term Election Voter Issue Survey,” that found that the majority of those surveyed say the following issues will help them make their voting decisions in days: lowering health care costs (79 percent), strengthening and reforming Social Security (75 percent) and Medicare, (70 percent) and putting the brakes to skyrocketing prescription drug costs (74 percent).

AARP’s survey data were collected by Alan Newman Research (ANR) between July 7 and July 18, 2018. ANR conducted a total of 802 telephone interviews of registered likely voters age 50 and older. All data were weighted by education, race/ethnicity, age, gender, and census division according to Current Population Survey statistics provided by AARP.

What Issues Are Important to Older Voters?

Let’s take a closer look at AARP’s July telephone survey findings…

The top issue for the Democratic survey respondents was health care costs, Social Security, drug costs and Medicare while Republicans identified national security as their issue.

People become eligible for health insurance through Medicare when they turn age 65. Democrats responding to the AARP survey (77 percent) were more likely to support giving those age 50 to 64, the option to buy health insurance through Medicare than the responding Republicans (57 percent).

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and other lawmakers have proposed a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single
government plan (called Medicare-for-All). The researchers noted that Democratic respondents gave the thumbs up (75 percent) to supporting this legislative policy while only 34 percent of the Republican respondents supported the health care policy.

The AARP survey also found that 66 percent of the respondents supported allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug costs to increase the solvency of the program.

Last year, Congress passed legislation that required pharmaceutical companies to contribute more to contribute more to close the Medicare Part D coverage gap to reduce the high out-of-pocket cost of drug costs. The pharmaceutical lobby is working to reverse this requirement. The AARP survey found that 78 percent of the age 50 and over respondents support the existing requirement to contribute more to close the Medicare Part D coverage gap.

Federal law prohibits insurance companies from charging those with pre-existing conditions more for health coverage. While some want to repeal this law because they believe the person should pay more, others say that paying a higher premium is unfair. The AARP survey found that 84 percent of the women and Democrats surveyed were more likely to say that the higher costs of health care is unfair for those with preexisting conditions.

Current federal law allows insurance companies to charge up to three times more for health insurance for those over age 50. Some Congressional lawmakers propose increasing this charge up to five times more for health insurance. Eighty three percent of the older survey respondents oppose this, calling any changes unfair.

Over half of the age 50 older survey respondents have caregiving experiences. Two in five of these respondents believe they will become caregivers. The survey found that 75 percent of the respondent’s support employer requirements for family caregiving. The requirements include: ensuring that employees can not be fired for taking time off for caregiving; allowing the use of existing sick leave for caregiving activities; allowing a limited amount of unpaid and paid leave for use by caregivers.

Eighty seven percent of the AARP survey respondents believe Congress should pass laws to protect caregivers from being fired for taking time off to care for a loved one. Most of these respondents (88 percent) also believe that stronger laws are needed to protect older workers from age discrimination.

Currently, there is discussion on Capitol Hill about the need for a rule that requires professional financial advisors, when giving advice to their older clients about their retirement savings accounts, to give advice that is in the best interest of these individuals. The AARP survey found that 69 percent of the survey respondents agree to this rule.

Phone App Informs Older Voters on Aging Issues

The Washington, DC-based AARP today launches “Raise Your Voice,” the nation’s first comprehensive advocacy and voting app for smart speakers (works on Amazon Alexa and Google Home) . The voice-enabled experience is designed to help older voters to use smart speakers to become educated on a wide range of aging issues — including Social Security, Medicare, prescription drugs, Medicaid and caregiving.

“This groundbreaking skill empowers voters at a time when people are looking for trustworthy, accessible sources of information,” said John Hishta, AARP Senior Vice President of Campaigns, in a statement announcing the Oct. 11 release of the phone app.

To invoke the app, the user simply says their smart speaker’s wake command, followed by “Open Raise Your Voice.” With days before the upcoming midterm elections, the user can direct “Raise Your Voice” to look up polling information and send it directly to the user’s cell phone. Similarly, the user can command the app to provide information on AARP issues.

“Traditional voter education is laudable and important work, but it’s a leap forward to develop technology that better supports voters as they seek out the location of their polling place, information on key issues, and the ability to contact their elected officials,” said Sami Hassanyeh, AARP Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy and Membership. “

The app is available at http://www.aarp.org/raiseyourvoice.

Send a Message to Congress

Robert Roach, Jr., President of the Washington, DC-based Alliance for Retired Americans, calls on older voters to “Know your rights before heading to the polls.” Your state’s Secretary of State’s website can provide details about voter identification requirements and other laws. If you are encountering problems with voting or suspect voter rights at your polling site, seek out an elected official to discuss, suggests Roach. Also, call the voting rights hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683).

“Bring a snack, a book and even a chair if you think there may be a line. Don’t go home until your vote has been counted,” says Roach. “An unfortunate election result could lead to health insurers charging people aged 50-64 five times more than younger consumers for the same coverage. A good result could lead to an expansion of your earned Social Security benefits,” he says.

Ahead of Midterms, Trump Unveils His Proposal to Slash Prescription Drug Costs

Published in Woonsocket Call on October 28, 2018

With mid-term elections looming, President Trump moves to block Democrats tying the high cost of prescription drugs to an unresponsive Republican-controlled Congress and to GOP efforts to undo health care protections for people with preexisting medical conditions, one of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, referred to as Obamacare.

According to recent Roll Call poll, health care is a top issue for Democratic and Independent voters in key battle ground states while the GOP tout’s immigration and the economy and jobs as its priority.

Last Thursday, afternoon, at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with Secretary Alex Aza, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and CMS Administrator Seem Verman standing by President Trump, he announced major changes as to how Medicare pays for prescription drug to bring down costs by making prescribed medications more affordable to seniors, making pricing of U.S. drugs fairer relative to costs paid by other countries.

Bringing Down Medicare’s Skyrocketing Drug Costs

“We’re taking aim at the global freeloading that forces American consumers to subsidize lower prices in foreign countries through higher prices in our country,” said Trump at the Oct. 25 press conference in his 14-minute speech. He noted that the costs for the same pharmaceutical drug in some countries are 20 percent less than those purchased in the United States even though it was made by the same manufacturing company.

“At long last, the drug companies and foreign countries will be held accountable for how they rigged the system against American consumers,” says Trump.

Trump rattled off specific examples of how Medicare pays higher prices for the same pharmaceutical drugs that are cheaper in other developed countries. For instance, one eye medication that prevents blindness would annually cost about $187 million rather than $1 billion dollars if Medicare paid the same prices other countries pay, he said.

Another example, a highly used and very effective cancer drug is nearly seven times as expensive for Medicare as it is for other countries, said Trump, noting that “this happens because the government pays whatever price the drug companies set without any negotiation whatsoever.”

Under Trump’s unveiled proposal, a new Medicare model, the International Pricing Index (IPI), is created to bring down Medicare drug costs to ensure seniors get a “more fair deal on the discounts drug companies voluntarily give to other countries.”

Currently, Medicare sets payments for physician-administered drugs at the average sales price in the U.S. market—plus a price-based add-on fee. Trump’s proposal would allow Medicare to set the payment of these drugs at a Target Price, based on the discounts drug companies give other countries. With the model fully implemented, it is estimated that total payment for these drugs would drop by 30 percent.

Under the IPI model, described in an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Medicare’s payments for select physician-administered drugs would shift to a level more closely aligned with prices in other countries. Overall savings for American taxpayers and patients is projected to total $17.2 billion, with out-of-pocket savings potentially totaling $3.4 billion over five years.

Medicare beneficiaries not covered by the IPI model could also see their drug costs lowered, because the average price used to calculate traditional Medicare reimbursement will drop.

Trump’s drug pricing proposal still needs to be refined and put though a federal rule-making process and its impact may not be seen for years.

Is Trump’s Efforts to Lower Drug Costs Just Election Year Posturing?

“It’s hard to take the Trump administration and Republicans seriously about reducing health care costs for seniors two weeks before the election when they have repeatedly advocated for and implemented policies that strip away protections for people with pre-existing conditions and lead to increased health care costs for millions of Americans,” says U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck E. Schumer in a statement.

“Once again, the President’s plan doesn’t go far enough to bring down the costs of prescription drugs. Democrats have proposed letting the HHS Secretary negotiate the prices of all drugs covered under Medicare, as well as new tools to ensure transparency and accountability when companies try to raise their prices. Without these critical steps, the President’s plan is just more words with little substance,” says Rhode Island Congressman David N. Cicilline.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) president and CEO Stephen J. Ubl, opposes Trump’s proposal to lower Medicare’s drug costs, warning that it would “jeopardize access to medicines for seniors and patients with disabilities living with devastating conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.” Trump’s proposal severely alters the Medicare Part B program by reducing physician reimbursement and inserting middlemen between patients and their physicians,” charges Ubl.

Adds, Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, in his statement: “The data is clear. The way we currently pay providers and pharmaceutical companies for drugs administered in doctors’ offices and hospitals creates perverse financial incentives for providers to select extraordinarily expensive drugs that may not be best for their patients. “

“Medicare Part B is the perfect example of misaligned incentives, and the proposed rule, if implemented, could pilot significant new ways to pay for drugs that align incentives so that patients get the highest value care, they have the best outcomes possible, and costs come down, says Isasi.

Like many, Isasi hopes that Trump’s proposal of using the power of the federal government to reduce Medicare drug costs is “not just election year posturing” but truly reflects a policy shift to using federal negotiating power to get unstainable prescription drug prices under control.

Next year, after the dust settles after the mid-term elections, Congress must work together to hammer out a comprehensive legislative strategy to lower pharmaceutical drug costs and to provide health care to all Americans. Listen to the polls.

Looking to Enhance Your Mental Health and Well-Being? Take a Trip

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 21, 2018

Just days ago, Washington, DC-based AARP releases survey findings tying health and wellness benefits to just planning and taking a leisure trip. According to the 45-page study, authored by Vicki Gelfeld, those who travel reported better emotional and physical health and improved personal relationships and even increased productivity at work. Additionally, overall well-being is one of the biggest advantages of taking a trip, with the benefits starting during the initial planning and extending beyond the trip. The longest lasting travel benefit reported by the survey respondents is improved relationships with loved ones – lasting six weeks on average.

The AARP Travel Research study, “The Health Outcomes of Travel: Perceptions of Boomers” released Oct. 16, shows 4 in 5 boomers experience at least one health benefit during a trip and 73 percent notice at least one health benefit after coming home. By far, boomers get the greatest boost of health benefits during their trip (56 percent). One in 5 say they experience health benefits before, during, and finally after the trip equally. But, Millennials experience a far bigger benefit from planning a trip (23 percent) than boomers (6 percent).

“When it comes to travel, getting away with your buddies or girlfriends is the lease stressful type of trip as is Spring Break. On the other hand, family reunions, holiday travel, and/or wedding/graduations tend to have the most stress, although predominately still low stress levels,” says the survey’s findings.

“This research shows there are many health and wellness benefits during all stages of travel across generations, and seeing those benefits significantly improves their satisfaction with the trip,” said Alison Bryant, AARP Research Senior Vice President, in a statement. “Any type of travel, whether it’s a weekend getaway or a week-long trip, can be an effective way to renew and recharge and the benefits far outweigh the short-lived drawbacks,” adds Bryant.

According to the AARP Travel Research’s survey findings, 21 percent or the survey respondents say they experience health benefits before, during, and after the trip equally. Of the 73 percent of boomers responding who noticed health benefits post-trip, the most unexpected benefits are better sleep (51 percent), more energy (50 percent) and increased productivity (46 percent).

Additionally, these survey findings also indicated that 72 percent of the boomer respondents credit their travel health benefits simply to relaxation and fun and 67 percent to spending quality time with loved ones. They also indicate that health benefits that most improve during a trip include improved emotional well-being (54 percent), connection with loved ones (52 percent), amount of energy (35 percent), intellectual curiosity (34 percent) and finally, mental clarity (30 percent).

Additionally, planning a trip completely focused on wellness is not done by many and does not differ by generation. The survey findings reveal that a wellness-focused trip is most likely a result of more intergenerational travel happening within the younger group surveyed. When planning and taking a trip, wellness is not thought of as an underlying reason to travel, but as a by-product. However, most are open to just letting the feeling of wellness happen. A significant majority of boomers (96 percent) who planned a wellness activity on their trip, but did not exclusively focus on it, said they were “somewhat or very satisfied.”

As Others See AARP’s Travel Survey Findings …

“This further verifies what we have known for some time,” said AARP Rhode Island Communications Director John Martin. “Not to be glib, but for Rhode Islanders ‘travel’ can also mean crossing a couple of bridges or driving from, say from Coventry to Newport for a night out.”

Martin says, “What I mean to say is that the benefits of travel are not limited to expensive, week-long vacations to distant destinations. Clearly a week in the Caribbean or a trip to relax and enjoy one’s children and grandchildren in San Diego are examples of fulfilling travel. But with so many older Rhode Islanders living on tight retirement budgets, that kind of getaway can be infrequent. When AARP hosts fun events such as a recent vineyard tour and wine tasting in Middletown, the people we see are active and engaged. They arrive full of energy and you just know they are making the effort to regularly leave home and that they understand that being active is a big part of their health and wellbeing.”

Adds Dan Sullivan, Jr., CEO of Pawtucket-based Collette, “We’re excited to see that the AARP Travel survey closely aligns with Collette strategic thinking in terms of the benefits of travel. For years, we’ve really looked at the benefits of pre-travel when the anticipation factor sets in. For boomers, having travel as something to really look forward to it, is invaluable.”

The AARP Travel survey results can be found at: http://www.aarp.org/travelwell.

AARP Travel, (go to http://www.aarp.org/travel/) a valuable resource for Americans age 50 and over, who spend over $125 billion annually in leisure travel, helps travelers stretch their dollar and itineraries while also stretching their minds and possibilities. AARP Travel provides all interested travelers with vacation ideas, tips and inspiration for their next getaway.

For details about Collette “one of a kind” tours and vacations, go to http://www.gocollette.com/en.

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