Caregivers Can Take Advantage of Free Credit Freeze Law

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 14, 2018

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin touts a new federal consumer protection law, signed into law by President Donald Trump on May 24, 2018, that protects seniors from becoming victims of financial exploitation. Rhode Island’s Attorney General says that this law enhances Rhode Island’s law prohibiting credit reporting agencies from charging fees for credit freezes,(also referred to as a security freeze).

With enactment of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, all consumers can now freeze and unfreeze their credit file for free for one year. Before this new law, fees were assessed, usually costing from $3 to $10 (though some states were free) to restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for others to open new accounts in another person’s name.

The new law lets people with certain legal authority to act on someone else’s behalf to freeze and unfreeze their credit file. It defines a “protected consumer” as an incapacitated person, someone with an appointed guardian or conservator, or a child under the age of 16. In addition, it extends the duration of a fraud alert on a consumer’s credit report from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert requires businesses that check a consumer’s credit to get the consumer’s approval before opening a new account.

“Many instances of financial exploitation include a person opening up credit cards or using the credit file of another for personal gain and identity theft. This added layer of protection will allow a guardian or financial caregiver the ability better safeguard the older person from being taken advantage of by a stranger or even someone they know and thought they could trust,”says Kilmartin.

To place a credit freeze on their accounts, consumers will need to contact all three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you’re acting on behalf of a protected consumer, you must give the credit reporting agencies proof of authority before you can freeze and unfreeze the protected consumer’s credit. Proof of authority includes: a court order (such as an order naming you guardian or conservator; a valid power of attorney, and proof of your identity, which can be a Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license or other government issued identification.

Whether consumers ask for a freeze online or by phone, the credit bureau must put the freeze in place within one business day. When consumers request to lift the freeze by phone or online, the credit bureaus must take that action within one hour. (If consumers make these requests by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days).
To place a fraud alert, consumers need only contact one of the three credit bureaus, which will notify the other two bureaus.

Rhode Island’s Credit Freeze Law

Filed at the request of Kilmartin and enacted earlier this year, the Rhode Island law eliminates a provision of existing state law that allows reporting agencies to charge up to $10 to consumers who ask for a credit freeze.

The legislation, which the sponsors introduced on behalf of Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin, stems from the Equifax security breach last year during which the credit information of 143 million Americans was exposed. Initially, Equifax was charging consumers who asked for a credit freeze to protect themselves from its own security breach, although it stopped after intense public outcry and pressure from numerous attorneys general.

At the time the law was enacted, Kilmartin said, “This is a big victory for Rhode Island consumers, giving them greater control over who can access their personal and financial information. Credit bureaus make money from selling our personal information to third parties. They should not be able to profit off consumers who decide to take control over who has access to their personal data.”

Protecting Rhode Island’s Seniors

“AARP applauds all efforts to protect older Rhode Islanders from phone and online credit scams that lead to identity theft,” says AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Clearly, many consumers, and especially many of Rhode Island’s 134,000 caregivers, will consider taking advantage of this new option. It certainly complements the work we are doing as part of AARP Fraud Watch to thwart con artists who prey relentlessly on people of all ages.

“In the case of older Rhode Islanders, life savings can be at risk. “The new federal law allows caregivers to acquire legal authority to freeze a loved one’s credit reports, and that’s a good thing. But it is important to note that there are many things a caregiver should consider. Basically, caregivers need to have conversations about the threat and what everyone should be doing to protect against credit theft,” she added.

AARP’s John Martin said when he presents the Fraud Watch program to community groups he urges people to think about fraud prevention in the same way training and professional development is part of their work experience. “In the workplace, your job includes being up to speed on the latest policies, regulations and best practices,” Martin tells audiences. “Lawyers read law reviews, doctors read medical journals, tugboat captains read The Shipping News. Failure to do so could lead to a missed opportunity or a big mistake. Given the enormous threats out there, we all should consider keeping up on the latest scams and implementing precautions something like a part-time job that requires similar diligence. To do otherwise increases your risk and the stakes are frighteningly high.”

Connell warns not to forget the basics. “AARP provides common-sense advice, awareness and precautions as well as alerts when new scams are exposed or an old one reappears,” she says. “Don’t be passive and please do encourage older family members to be on guard. We are all in this together.”

Anyone can sign up for the free Fraud Watch Network service at http://www.aarp.org/RIFraudwatch to receive alerts and report scams or other suspicious activity.

Reporting Financial Exploitation

The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General recommends that if you believe you or an older relative are victims of financial exploitation, contact your local police department, the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs, or the Elder Abuse Unit at the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General.

If you would like an investigator at the Elder Abuse Unit or an investigator with the Consumer Protection Unit to speak with your organization on the signs of elder abuse or how to protect from being a victim of a scam, please contact Mickaela Driscoll, Elder Abuse Investigator, at mdriscoll@riag.ri.gov or Martha Crippen, Director of the Consumer Protection Unit, at mcrippen@riag.ri.gov or by calling 401-274-4400.

Advertisements

Democrats Put High Drug Costs on Radar Screen

Published in Woonsocket Call on September 30, 2018

On August 21, at an afternoon Democratic Senate hearing titled “America Speaks Out: The Urgent Need to Tackle Health Care Costs and Prescription Drug Prices,” Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Joe Manchin (D-WV), gathered to hear the personal stories of witnesses who have struggled with paying for the high cost of prescription drugs and listen to an expert who tracks price trends for prescription drugs widely used by older Americans.

In the last 18 years prescription drug prices have risen 3 times faster than physician and clinical services,” says DPCC’s chairwoman Stabenow in her opening statement. “We pay the highest prices in the world. The outrages prices force people to skip doses, split pills in half and even go without the medication they need,” she says, calling this problem a “matter of life and death,” says Stabenow.

Democrats believe health care to be a basic human right, while the GOP considers it to be a commodity to go to the highest bidder, adds Stabenow, denoting the philosophical differences of the two political parties.

Wyden, Ranking Member on the Senate Finance Committee who sits on the DPCC, recalled that two years ago when then presidential candidate Donald Trump was on the campaign trail pledged to make sure Medicare would negotiate like crazy to hold down costs for seniors and taxpayers. While Trump is well into one year and a half into his term, Americans year ad half into his term Americans believe it is crazy that we are still not negotiating to hold down the cost of medicine.

Wyden and his fellow DPCC committee members also call for Medicare to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Senate DPCCs Puts Spotlight on Rising Drug Costs

At the Senate’s DPCC’s hearing, Witness Nicole Smith-Holt, a Minnesota state employee, and mother of four children shared a tragic story about her 26-year old diabetic son, Alec, who had died because he could not afford his copay of $1,300 for diabetic supplies and insulin.

The Richfield, Minnesota resident recounted how her son tried to ration the insulin to make it last until his next paycheck, but he died as a result of diabetic ketoacidosis.

Stahis Panagides, an 80-year old Bethesda, Maryland retiree, testified that he could not afford to pay $ 400 per month for prescribed Parkinson’s medication. He could not pay for the new course of treatment, recommended by his neurologist, even with a supplemental Medicare plan, he says, so he just refused to take it.

Retired social worker John Glaser, a long-time grassroots organizer for the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, came before the Democratic committee, saying “Medicare drug benefits and the Affordable Care Act’s closing of the coverage ‘donut hole’ have made a huge difference in my life and are invaluable for the quality of my life. Without these improvements he would have spent about $5,000 one-of-pocket on prescription drugs last year, he notes.

Glaser also shared that his brother, who is afflicted with diabetes, heart problems, and kidney disease, takes over 50 pills every day. “If my brother had to pay the full price for all of those drugs, he’d be living on the street,” he says.

Marques Jones, who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), told the Senators that his MS medication costs about $75,000 annually. Despite having robust insurance coverage, Jones’ annual out-of-pocket spending on drug co-pays and insurance premiums for his family of five is very high. This has caused the resident of Richmond, Virginia to become a vocal advocate for those who suffer from MS.

Finally, Leigh Purvis, Director, Health Services Research, AARP Public Policy Institute, a coauthor of the AARP Public Policy Institute’s annual RX Price Watch Reports, warned that today’s prescription drug price trends are not sustainable. “The current system is simply shifting costs onto patients and taxpayers while drug companies remain free to set incredibly high prices and increase them any time that they want,” says Purvis, noting that Congressional efforts to reduce prescription drug prices could save billions of dollars.

AARP Report Tracks Skyrocketing Drug Costs

One month after Senate’s DPCC’s hearing, a new AARP report, released on September 27, 2018, says that retail prices for many of the most commonly-used brand name drugs prescribed to older adults by older adults increased by an average of 8.4 percent in 2017, greater than the general inflation rate of 2.1 percent. The annual average cost of therapy for just one brand name drug increased to almost $6,800 in 2017, says the AARP researchers.

According to the new “Rx Price Watch Report: Trends in Retail Prices of Prescription Drugs Widely Used by Older Americans: 2017 Year-End Update,” released just days ago, revealed that for over a decade, brand name drug prices have “exceeded the general inflation rate of other consumer goods by a factor of two-fold to more than 100-fold.”

If retail drug price charges had reflected the general inflation rate between 2006 and 2017, the average annual cost for one brand name drug in 2017 would have been $2,178 instead of $6,798, said the AARP Public Policy report.

Taking multiple medications can be costly, says the AARP report. “For the average senior taking 4.5 medications each month, this would translate into an annual cost of therapy that is almost $21,000 less than the actual average cost of therapy in 2017 ($9,801 vs. $30,591), notes the findings of the AARP report.

“Despite years of relentless public criticism, brand name drug companies continue increasing the prices of their products at rates that far exceed general inflation,” said AARP Chief Public Policy Officer Debra Whitman, in a September 26 statement with the release of the AARP report. “It’s clear that we need long-term, meaningful policies that go beyond just hoping that the drug industry will voluntarily change its excessive pricing behavior,” adds Whitman.

“The average older American taking 4.5 prescription medications each month would have faced more than $30,000 in brand name costs last year,” adds Leigh Purvis, Director of Health Services Research, AARP Public Policy Institute, and co-author of the AARP report. “That amount surpasses the median annual income of $26,200 for someone on Medicare by more than 20 percent. No American should have to choose between paying for their drugs and paying for food or rent,” says Purvis.

Some highlights of AARP’s New Drug Cost Report

AARP report’s findings noted that brand name drug prices increased four times faster than the 2017 general inflation rate and that drug retail prices that year increased for 87 percent of the 267 brand name drugs studied.

Finally, research findings indicated that “retail prices for 113 chronic-use brand name drugs on the market since at least 2006 increased cumulatively over 12 years by an average of 214 percent compared with the cumulative general inflation rate of 25 percent between 2006 to 2017.”

In recent correspondence to the Secretary of the Health and Human Services, AARP calls for regulatory and legislative reforms that will allow the Secretary to be able to negotiate drug prices for Medicare, allowing the safe importation of lower cost drugs into the United States and ensuring that generic drugs can more easily enter the market. Now, AARP waits for a response.

Putting the breaks on the skyrocketing pharmaceutical costs might just be the bipartisan issue that the new Congress can tackle once the dust settles from the upcoming mid-term elections.

To watch DPCC’s August 21st Senate hearing, go to https://www.democrats.senate.gov/dpcc/hearings/senate-democrats-to-hold-hearing-with-americans-hurt-by-high-cost-of-prescription-drugs.

For a copy of AARP’s drug cost report, to http://www.aarp.org/rxpricewatch.

Courtesy of AARP: Long-Term Care Data at Your Finger Tips

Published in the Woonsocket Call on September 2, 2018

Across the States 2018: Profiles of Long-Term Services and Supports, by Ari Houser, Wendy Fox-Grage, Kathleen Ujvari, of AARP’s Public Policy Institute, was released days ago. The jampacked 84-page AARP reference report gives state and federal policy makers comparable state-level and national data culled from a large number of research studies and data sources, some of the data gleaned from original sources.

AARP considers the 10th edition of Across the States, published for the past 24 years, “the flagship publication” to assist policy makers make informed decisions as they create programs, and policies for long-term services and supports (LTSS). State-specific data “is easily found, “at your fingertips,” claims AARP.

Across the States, released August 27, 2018, includes a myriad of aging topics include: age demographics and projections; living arrangements, income, and poverty; disability rates; costs of care; private long-term care insurance; Medicaid long-term services and supports; family caregivers; home- and community-based services (HCBS); and nursing facilities. Each state profile is a four-page, user-friendly, print-ready document that provides each state’s data and rankings.

Looking at Trends

AARP Public Policy Institute researchers have identified four trends in reviewing state data. Of most importance to Congress and state legislatures, Across the States gives a warning that America’s population is aging. The nation’s age 85 and over population, those most in need of aging programs and services, is projected to triple between 2015 and 2050, a whopping 208 percent increase.

But, by comparison, the population younger than age 65 is expected to increase by only 12 percent. The under age 65 population, currently, 85 percent of the total population, is projected to be 78 percent in 2050. Bad news for propping up the Social Security system with the worker-to – beneficiary ratio declining.

Across the States researchers say that the demographic shift of an increasing older population will have an impact on family caregiving. “The caregiver support ratio compares the number of people ages 45–64 (peak caregiver age) to the number ages 80+ (peak care need),” notes the report. Today, there are about 7 people ages 45–64 for every person age 80. By 2050, that ratio will drop to 3 to 1.

America’s older population is also becoming more diverse, reflecting overall trends in the general population. Across the States researchers note that the Hispanic population age 65 and over is projected to quadruple between 2015 and 2050.

Finally, Across the States report notes that State Medicaid LTSS systems are becoming more balanced due to the increase of state dollars going to fund home and community-based services (specifically to care for older people and adults with disabilities). But, this trend varies in level of balance, say the researchers, noting that: “The percentage of LTSS spending for older people and adults with disabilities going to HCBS ranged from 13 percent to 73 percent in 2016. While 40 states became more balanced, 11 states became less balanced for older adults and people with physical disabilities in 2016 compared with 2011.”

Taking a Closer Look

Across the States notes that the age 85 and over population is projected to significantly outpace all other age groups when the aging baby boomers begin turning age 85 in 2031. In 2015, people ages 85 and older made up 2 percent of the US population. By 2050, they are projected to represent 5 percent. By contrast, in the Ocean State the age 85 and over population was 2.7 percent of the state’s population. By 2050, look for the oldest-old population to inch up to 5.4 percent.

Throughout the nation the cost for private pay nursing facility care is well out of reach of most middle-income families. Across the States notes that in 2017 the annual median cost for nursing facilities is $97,455 for a private room and $87,600 for a shared room. But, in Rhode Island the annual cost is higher, with a private room costing $ 104,025 and $ 101,835 for a shared room. The researchers say that for the cost of residing in a nursing facility for one year, a person could pay for three years of home care or five years of adult day services.

Because of the high costs, most people go through their life savings paying for costly care and ultimately have to rely on the state’s Medicaid program. Nationally, the percent of Medicaid as primary payer in 2016 was 62 percent (61 percent in Rhode Island).

According to Across the States, family caregivers provided $470 billion worth of unpaid care in 2013, more than six times the Medicaid spending on home and community-based services. In Rhode Island, 134,000 provided 124 million hours of care annually with an economic value $ 1.78 billion. But, AARP’s report warns federal and state policy makers about the stark demographics in America’s future that will for the nation’s “Oldest Old” to scramble to find a caregiver, due to a shortage. Will state’s have the financial resources to fund programs and services to make up for this demographic reality.

For a copy of Across the States report and Rhode Island specifics, go to: http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2018/08/across-the-states-profiles-of-long-term-services-and-supports-full-report.pdf.

AARP Takes A Look at ‘Value of Experience’ of Older Workers

Published in the Woonsocket call on August 12, 2018

Given employers’ need for talent and experience, Oak Hill resident Henry Rosenthal, 67, with five decades in the workforce, readily agrees with AARP views that it’s a sound business decision to hire experienced workers, as supported by the findings of AARP’s recently released survey, The Value of Experience: AARP Multicultural Work and Jobs Study. The AARP report includes insights on workers, employers, and age bias, a hurtle Rosenthal had to overcome in finding reemployment after being unemployed for two years in his sixties.

AARP’s in-depth survey was conducted online in September 2017 to a national sample of 3,900 adults ages 45+ who were working full-time, part-time, or looking for work.

According to the results of AARP’s survey of experienced workers released on August 2, 2018, nearly 9 in 10 continue to work for financial reasons, but approximately 8 in 10 either enjoy or feel useful doing their job. And among those who plan to retire, over 1 in 4 plans to start a business or earn money in some independent way, including freelancing and contract work, teaching others, selling hand-made goods, and providing home services such as house cleaning and cooking.

“With rich work histories, varied experiences and expertise, older workers want to work, they’re ready to work, and they need to work,” said AARP Vice President of Financial Resilience Susan Weinstock. “More employers are looking for qualified candidates and experienced workers should have the opportunity to be judged on their merits, rather than their age,” says Weinstock.

To highlight job opportunities among 50-plus workers, AARP launched an employer pledge for companies who hire workers based on ability, regardless of age. Since 2013, 650 employers have signed AARP’s pledge. AARP also continues to educate employers about the value of older workforce and the positives of having multigenerational employees.

“According to government data [from the U.S Department of Labor Statistics,] workforce participation rates for older workers exceed participation before the Great Recession, while younger worker participation is below pre-recession numbers,” added Weinstock. “While employment trends for older workers are favorable, with 27.9% of 55-plus workers suffering long-term unemployment compared to 18.1 percent of 16-54 workers, the long-term unemployment disparity suggests that entrenched age-bias still exist too often in the workplace,” she says.

Age discrimination Still Around

Findings from AARP’s survey, The Value of Experience, show that many experienced workers still face the barrier of age discrimination in their job hunt or at their place of employment. More than 9 in 10 workers see age discrimination as somewhat or a very common occurrence.

Specifically, the AARP survey found that at work, more than 6 in 10 older workers (61 percent) report they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, and of those concerned about losing their job in the next year, one-third (34 percent) list age discrimination as either a major or minor reason. But only 3 percent of the survey respondents say that they had made a formal complaint to their supervisor, to Human Resources or a government agency

Age discrimination becomes more noticeable to those turning age 50 and over. Fifty four percent of those surveyed believe that age discrimination starts on that major age milestone, 28 percent at age 60. Ageist comments from either a boss or coworker are the most visibly frequent type of discrimination reported by the survey respondents.

According to the AARP survey, both employed workers and those who were unemployed looking for work viewed age discrimination as the key reason why they did not think they could find employment within three months.

On the job hunt, almost half (44 percent) of older job applicants say they have been asked for age-related information, such as birth date and graduation date, from a potential employer.

Over 90% of older Americans surveyed by AARP supported strengthening the nation’s age discrimination laws— nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) strongly support a change and 32 percent somewhat agree they should be improved.

With 2017 marking the 50th Anniversary of the nation’s Age Discrimination Act of 1967, AARP’s new survey findings are timely as America’s workforce is aging and an increasing number of older workers report their age keeps them from becoming gainfully employed or underemployed.

A Personal Note:

Looking back, Rosenthal, says of his two-year job search, in 2015 after being laid off, he experienced age discrimination. “Having been interviewed by numerous Human Resource professionals, they just seem incapable of understanding that the years of experience someone has gained is an asset. They seem unable to appreciate that knowledge, experience, and even skills acquired over a lifetime can be transferred and used in virtually any organization or business,” he says.

Rosenthal says, “there is a higher probability of age discrimination occurring when company management, human resource professionals, and recruiters interview applicants older than themselves.” Like many older job seekers, he believes that decision-making executives are uncomfortable with overseeing older workers and rather than deal with them, they don’t just hire them.

Rosenthal, now gainfully “under employed,” views his older contemporaries as being “more stable, reliable, have better work ethics and generally make great employees, in line with AARP’s philosophy that Corporate America should value the experience of older workers. With the difficulty in finding employment Rosenthal believes that companies have not figured this out yet. “What a terrible waste of human capital,” he says.

AARP says its survey findings reveal that “older workers believe that age discrimination should be taken just a seriously as other forms of discrimination, and support strengthening the laws to ensure that it is.”

But, Rosenthal says that while combating age discrimination by strengthening the laws, real change can only occur by changing “our cultural attitudes.” Other cultures value their elders but here in America’s we don’t,” he says.

For a copy of AARP survey findings, go to http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2018/value-of-experience-chartbook.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00177.003.pdf.

Calls for Strengthening Medicare as it Hits 53

Published in the Woonsocket Call on August 5, 2018

Just before Summer recess House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) joined Seniors Task Force co-chairs Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), Democratic Policy and Communications Committee co-chair Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) and seniors’ advocates gathered in the historic Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol, one of the largest rooms on Capitol Hill, to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid being signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

“We usually celebrate Medicare’s anniversary at the U.S. Capitol with balloons and cake. This year, the 53rd anniversary, was a more solemn occasion because of relentless attacks on the program by the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans, says Max Richtman, President and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, one of the advocacy groups in attendance.

When signing the landmark legislation into law on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B Johnson said, “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime. No longer will young families see their own incomes and hopes eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents.”

At the July 25 birthday commemoration, Leader Pelosi called Medicare and Medicaid “the pillars of health and security for the nation,” noting that for years these two programs have been under unrelenting and constant attacks from Republicans.

“For years, Republicans have sought to deny seniors and working families the healing miracle of medicine. Republicans want Medicare, in their words, to ‘wither on the vine.’ They want to cut and cap Medicaid into oblivion. They want to give massive tax handouts to big pharma who are denying seniors lower prescription drug prices,” says Pelosi.

According to Pelosi, the Democrats plan, A Better Deal, provides a legislative strategy for lowering the price of prescription drugs. “Our plan calls for tough new enforcement of drug price gauging, allowing Medicare part D to negotiate drug prices,” she said, noting that President Donald Trump had promised that during his presidential campaign, “We’re going to negotiate like crazy.”

Echoing Pelosi, at the press conference Rhode Island Congressman Cicilline also called for the reining in of prescription drug costs to put the brakes on rising Medicare expenditures. “Democrats believe that seniors shouldn’t have to cut pills in half to afford prescription drugs. We need a president who will work with us to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, to compel drug makers to justify cost increases, and to crack down on price gougers,” said Cicilline.

Cicilline reminded those attending that the President once promised to take on the drug companies but now has decided to appoint a former drug company executive as his Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Service. “And right now, he’s pretty much letting the pharmaceutical lobby have the run of the place,” he charged.

At the press conference, the Democratic lawmakers were joined by ten yellow t-shirted senior volunteers from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare’s Capitol Action Team (CAT), who demanded that the program be strengthened. One of the CAT members, Patricia Cotton, gave a powerful personal testimonial about the importance of Medicare in her life. Cotton, a Medicare beneficiary who suffers from a blood cancer known as Myelofibrosis, said she wouldn’t be alive today without the health care program.

“My cancer meds started at $10,000 every 30 days and have gone up twice in two years. Cancer meds are very expensive. My Medicare Part B and D premiums have gone up, and that is coming out of my Social Security check. That is why, without Medicare and Social Security, the rich will live and the poor will die,” said Cotton.
.
Democratic Report Spotlights GOP’s Ongoing Attacks on Medicare

At this event, the House Democratic Seniors Task Force unveiled a new 24 page report, “The Republican Record on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security: Attacks on Benefits Seniors Have Earned and Deserve,” detailing years of Republican’s attacks on seniors and demanded the GOP take action on lowering pharmaceutical prices.

“This report shows how the passage of the GOP tax bill was just one step in a long line of Republican attacks on seniors,” says Congressman Matsui (D-CA). “In budget after budget, year after year, Republicans have reaffirmed their commitment to gutting Medicaid, scaling back Medicare, and cutting seniors’ earned Social Security benefits. Democrats are focusing on efforts that help seniors and families, like lowering drugs prices, and fighting to ensure that these vital programs are here for current and future generations.”

“The House GOP budget proposal includes more than $500 billion in Medicare cuts, a higher eligibility age, and privatization of the program through a voucher system,” the National Committee’s Max Richtman explains. “The President’s 2019 budget would inflict similar harm on Medicare. The Trump administration is undermining the program through skillfully worded enrollment information that favors private Medicare Advantage plans over traditional Medicare. These actions are contrary to the mission of Medicare so eloquently stated by President Lyndon Johnson is when he signed it into law 53 years ago,” says Richtman.

AARP Calls Medicare an Economic Engine for Rhode Island

Last year, Medicare, which helps pay the health care costs of 56 million beneficiaries, is a critical part of the country’s economic infrastructure, investing about $ 710 billion in the national economy that year, says AARP.

On July 25th, the same day that House Democratic Leadership and aging groups celebrated the 53rd anniversary of the signing of Medicare, AARP released fact sheets illustrating Medicare’s contribution to the economies of each state and the District of Columbia.

Let’s take a close look at the Ocean State.

Medicare contributes $2.5 billion to Rhode Island’s economy, equivalent to 21% of state and local government spending in the state, according to the released AARP Rhode Island fact sheet, noting that the program also covers 192,186 beneficiaries in the state. In polls, older Americans have said Medicare is one of their top issues in the 2018 mid-term elections, and AARP Rhode Island is working to encourage older Rhode Island voters to participation this election season.

“Medicare is a major economic engine in our economy security, as well as a key part of, providing health security to Rhode Islanders,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell in a statement. “Older Americans have said Medicare is one of their top issues in this election, yet too many politicians fail to recognize the contributions Medicare makes to the economy and our residents. Any candidate who fails to talk about how they would strengthen Medicare for future generations does so at their peril,” says Connell.

Below the AARP fact sheet breaks down some of Medicare’s spending in Rhode Island:
• $1.1 billion for hospitals
• $551 million for doctors
• $338 million for prescriptions and medical supplies
• $198 million for skilled nursing facilities
• $159 million for home healthcare agencies
• $92 million health professionals
• $24 million for medical equipment

Also, businesses in Rhode Island receiving Medicare dollars use them to pay employees’ salaries, rent, state and local taxes, and buy equipment, and make capital improvements to their facilities, says the AARP fact sheet.

With the mid-term elections looming, it is now time to send a clear message to Congress and President Donald Trump, “Stop Attacking Medicare.” Lawmakers on both side of the aisle must work to craft a bipartisan solution to strengthen the program for the benefit of America’s retirees. Consider sending this message when you vote…

AARP’s “Be The Difference. Vote” campaign includes a one-stop online portal – aarp.org/vote – to provide people with information (about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and aging issues} they need to. know about before voting in the upcoming November elections.

To see the House Democratic Senior Task Force report, “The Republican Record on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security: Attacks on Benefits Seniors Have Earned and Deserve,” go to
http://www.schakowsky.house.gov/uploads/Seniors%20Task%20Force%20Report%207.24.18.pdf

Questions Raised About the State’s New Independent Provider Program

Published in the Woonsocket Call on July 15, 2018

In the waning days of the 2018 legislative session, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation (S 2734 Sub A, H 7803 Sub A) that establishes in the Ocean State the “Independent Provider” (IP) model of at-home care, which allows consumers to hire and manage caregivers of their own choice while the state takes on certain responsibilities, such as setting caregivers’ wages, qualification standards and hours. With Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s signature, the legislation became law on June 29th.

The enacted legislation is backed by the Rhode Island Campaign for Home Care Independence and Choice, a coalition that includes the Senior Agenda Coalition, RI Working Families Party, RI Organizing Project, District 1199 SEIU New England, RI AFL-CIO, Economic Progress Institute and the RI Chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW). But, although on the losing side of the legislative debate the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care continues to express its concern about the impact on the delivery by IPs to seniors and persons with disability.

Overwhelming Support on Smith Hill

The health care legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence) and Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Providence), easily passed both the House and Senate Chambers. The Senate Committee on Labor unanimously passed the measure by a 9-0 vote. By a count of 33-0, the legislation easily passed on the Senate floor. Meanwhile, in the other chamber, the House Committee of Finance put its stamp of approval on the measure by a vote of 13-0, with the legislation ultimately passing of the House floor by a vote of 60-11. But, because the House amended the bill (in committee and on the floor), it had to come back to the Senate for consideration again. The Senate vote on the revised legislation was 28-3.

In a statement announcing the new law, Goodwin and Blazejewski, say “By increasing both availability and quality of at-home care options, the new law’s ultimate goal is to move Rhode Island toward greater use of care in the community rather than in nursing facilities, since at-home care is both more comfortable and satisfying for consumers and less expensive than nursing facilities.”

“Presently, Rhode Island ranks 42nd in the nation in terms of investment in home care. Ninety percent of older Americans prefer home care. Not only is it more comfortable for seniors, it’s more cost-effective, as we’ve seen in states like Massachusetts. High-quality home care is what people want, and it saves money. I’m proud to support this effort to help make excellent home care available to more Rhode Islanders,” said Goodwin.

Adds, Blazejewski, “There is little question that people prefer to stay in their homes as long as possible. Particularly now, as the over-65 population in our state is rapidly expanding, Rhode Island must shift more of our long-term care resources toward supporting home care. Our legislation will help provide more options for home-based services, enhance access to them and establish standards that assure high-quality care.”

Hiring, Finding and Managing a Caregiver

Currently around 77 percent of Medicaid funding for long-term services and supports goes to nursing facility care rather than community-based care. Those who use community-based care generally go through agencies or find, hire and manage a caregiver on their own. This bill would create a third option.

Under the Independent Provider model, which has been in place in Massachusetts since 2008, consumers would still be the direct employer who determines when to hire or fire an employee, but the state would take on responsibilities for maintaining a registry of qualified caregivers, and would set parameters such as rates, qualifications and hours.

While the new law stipulates that they are not employees of the state, it would give home care workers the right to collectively bargain with the state over those parameters. Allowing them to organize would ensure that this otherwise dispersed workforce has a unified voice and a seat at the table to tackle the issues facing Rhode Island’s long term services and supports system, said the sponsors.

Consumers in states with independent provider models report higher levels of client satisfaction and autonomy, received more stable worker matches, improved medical outcomes, and reduced unmet need with agencies delivering fewer hours of care relative to the needs of the consumer.

In testimony supporting the health care legislation, Director Charles J. Fogarty, of Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), told lawmakers that the health care legislation supports two goals of DEA, first it would enable elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders who are medically able to stay at home and second, it would address Rhode Island’s direct service provider workforce shortage.

Fogarty said it’s critical for older adults and people with disabilities to have access to the quality of care that is right for them. “In some cases, care from an independent provider they know and trust will best meet their needs to remain independent. In other cases, a home care agency will be the right fit. And for some, particularly those with complex medical needs, our quality nursing homes are the right option,” he said.

When quizzed asked about The Rhode Island Health Care Association’s position, Virginia Burke, President and CEO, recognized the value of home care in the state’s long-term care continuum but stressed that residents in the state’s nursing facilities “are too sick or impaired to mange at home.” She said, “Our only concern with this proposal is the suggestion that it could drain Medicaid funding from the frailest and most vulnerable among our elders in order to pay for a new Medicaid service. Surely our elders deserve good quality and compassionate care in all settings.”

Calling for More Education, State Oversight of IPs

While most who testified before the Senate and House panel hearings came to tout the benefits of bringing IP caregivers into the homes of older Rhode Islanders and persons with disabilities, Nicholas A. Oliver, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care, sees problems down the road and calls the new policy “duplicative and costly.”

In written testimony, if the legislation is passed Oliver warns that Rhode Island will be authorizing untrained and unsupervised paraprofessionals to deliver healthcare to the state’s most frail seniors without Department of Health oversight, without adherence to national accreditation standards for personal care attendant service delivery and without protections against fraud, waste and abuse.

Furthermore, his testimony expressed concern over the lack of oversight as to the quality of care provided by IPs to their older or disabled clients. Although the legislation called for supervision from the Director of Human Services (DHS), this state agency does not have the mandated legislative authority to investigate IPs to ensure that patient safety is met and the recipients of care are protected against harm in their homes. Nor does it require daily supervision for adherence to the patient’s authorized plan of care, he says, noting that is a requirement for licensed home health and hospice agencies.

Oliver observes that the legislation does not require IPs to receive the same level of intensive training that Certified Nursing Assistances (CNAs) receive from their home health care and hospice agencies. While the state requires all CNAs to complete 120 hours of initial training, pass a written and practical examination, become licensed by the Department of Health and maintain a license by completing a minimum of 12 hours of in-service training annually, the legislation only requires IPs to take three hours of generalized training and no continuing in-service training is required.

CNAs deliver the same personal care attendant services as the IPs but have a specific scope of practices that they must follow as regulated by the Department of Health and their licensure board while IPs do not have these requirements, says Oliver.

Finally, Oliver says that “to ensure quality of care [provided by home care and hospice agencies], CNAs are supervised by a registered nurse (RN) that is actively involved in the field and who is available to respond to both the patient’s and the CNA’s needs on-demand to reduce risk of patient injury, harm or declining health status and to reduce risk of CNA injury, harm or improper delivery of personal care.” IPs do not have this supervision., he says.

Safe guards are put in place by home health and hospice agencies to ensure the safety of patient and direct care staff, says Oliver, noting that these agencies are nationally accredited by The Joint Commission, the Community Health Accreditation Program (CHAP) or the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC) in partnership with the Department of Health for compliance of state and federal rules and regulations, as well as national clinical standards for personal care attendant service delivery.

With the Rhode Island General Assembly bringing IPs into the state’s health care delivery system, the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, granted authority by the legislation to develop the program, might just consider establishing a Task Force of experts to closely monitor the progress of the new IP program’s implementation to ensure that quality of care is being provided and to make suggestions for legislative fixes next year if operational problems are identified. Unanticipated consequences of implementing new rules and regulations do happen and every effort should be state policy makers that this does will not happen in Rhode Island with the creation of the new IP program.

To watch Oliver talk about the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care’s opposition to the enactment of IP legislation that would increase state involvement in the home care sector, go to http://m.golocalprov.com/live/nicholas-oliver.

Graduating College Seniors Get Some Advice from Rhode Island’s Authors

Published in the Woonsocket Call on July 1, 2018

Throughout May and June, robed college graduates listened to commencement speeches delivered by well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities, actors, and chief executive officers of businesses. Many of the orators advised the young adults on how to create a more rewarding personal and professional life in their later years.

Members of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA) also have insightful advice on aging gracefully in a challenging and changing world to give to the Class of 2018, and some of what the authors would have said if they had been invited to speak follows.

Hopefully, all readers will benefit from the commencement tips and find time to take a look at the authors’ books.

The ABCs of Aging Gracefully

Norman Desmarais, 71, professor emeritus at Providence College, lives in Lincoln and is an active re-enactor and a former librarian. He is the author of “The Guide to the American Revolutionary War in Canada and New England,” “The Guide to the American Revolutionary War in New York” and “The Guide to the American Revolutionary War in New Jersey.” These books intend to provide comprehensive coverage of the confrontations of the American War of Independence and to serve as a guide to the sites. For book details, go to http://www.revolutionaryimprints.net.

Commencement tips: “It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice. Remember that the people you pass climbing the ladder of success will be the same people you meet on the way down. They will often be the people you will need to be successful.

Rick Billings, 59, a retired firefighter and emergency management technician lives in Barrington. He authored and illustrated two children’s books, “The Tragic Tale of Mr. Moofs, a story about the changing relationship between a stuffed toy and a boy’s older sister and more recently “Melba Blue,” a light introduction for children on the works of Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare. For book details, go to http://www.reddogart.com.

Commencement tips: “What are you waiting for? This is my mantra. I became a firefighter at age 35. I wrote, illustrated and self-published my first book 19 years later. Today, I cycle between 40 and 80 miles each week. I travel. I laugh. I love. Embrace family, nature, health, spirituality, peace, creativity and the purity of the new. What are you waiting for?”

Patricia Hinkley, 73, a former holistic counselor and journey practitioner in private practice, lives in Wakefield. She authored “Chasing Sleep/Lonely Tussles in the Dark,” a book that explores the issues and challenges surrounding sleep deprivation and how to overcome them by changing attitudes and behaviors and “Claiming Space/Finding Stillness that Inspires Action,” a book that invites you to step back from the busy world to uncover the peaceful intelligence, genuine happiness, and capabilities within. For book details, go to http://www.patriciahinkley.com.

Commencement tips: “Find what you love and do it. Learn about your world and become a part of positive change. Respect and peacefully negotiate with people who differ from you. Know history, government and civics. Involve yourself to make a better world. Trust your heart’s wisdom when deciding what is right. Speak up for it.”

Hank Ellis, 69, formerly employed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, lives in Exeter. He authored “The Promise: A perilous Journey,” a book appealing to all ages and a must-read for those who love the magic of a childhood adventure. For book details, go to Amazon.

Commencement tips: “Know what is important to you: happiness or wealth. You can have both, but it can be more difficult. Be open to change, roll with the punches and don’t punch back. Always be kind. Be brave and stretch yourself. The greatest advice I can give is to give of yourself. Serve others in all you do. I guarantee amazing results.”

Barbara Ann Whitman, 62, a family support specialist, lives in Johnston. She authored “Have Mercy,” a book about the effects foster care can have on a child. For book details, go to http://www.facebook.com/BarbaraAnnWhitmanAuthor.

Commencement tips: “Before you can be kind to others, you must first be kind to yourself.
If you want to be honest, start with the person in the mirror.The same principle applies to being authentic, loyal and loving. Being selfless is overrated. Indulge and invest in knowing yourself.
Only then will you be ready to share your gifts with the world.”

Etta Zasloff, 70, lives in Hope Valley. She published an alphabet book for all ages on her 70th birthday, “Beginning with Xs and Os: The Evolution of Alphabet.” It’s a child’s first chapter book! Personified letters change, rearrange, and interchange in rhyming stories of origin. For book details, go to ettazasloff.com

Commencement tips: “Live, really live. Look out the window more than in the mirror or at your phone. Explore the world. Engage with people beyond your immediate circle. Pursue your passion with education, experience and practice to mastery. Have the courage to forge your own path and leave a trail for others to follow. Always think of those who follow.”

Harris N. (“Hershey”) Rosen, 85, ran a Pawtucket-based candy company for 40 years before retiring. He lives in Providence, and he authored “My Family Record Book,” providing easy tips on organizing personal information, financial plans and final wishes for seniors, caregivers, estate executors, etc. For book details, go to myfamilyrecordbook.com.

Commencement tips: “Achievement is 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration. So in life, find your purpose in something you enjoy and don’t be afraid to aim high. Look around for help and value your network of friends you made in college. Persist in realizing your goal, knowing that it’s OK to fail (you will) but not to quit. You’ll get there; I promise.”

BJ Knapp, 44, a former college radio station disc jockey, lives in Coventry. She authored “Beside the Music.” Image if a washed up 80s metal band moved in to your house. It happens to Brenda and Time in “Besides the Music.” Can Brenda be one man’s wife and another man’s muse. For book details, go to http://www.bjknapp.com.

Commencement tips: “Never forget how to laugh at yourself, how to be silly and how to make others laugh. Laughter is great for your abs, for your soul and for your relationships. And it’s not all about you. Don’t turn every situation around so it’s about you. Most of the time it’s about someone else, and it’s up to you to be supportive of that person. They will do the same for you when it really is all about you.”

Alison O’Donnell, 52, a freelance editor, proofreader and ghostwriter, lives in Pawtucket. She authored “Stupid Cupid~ A Survivor’s Guide to Online Dating.” The book has a sarcastic slant toward online dating, chronicling 100 really bad dates followed by a moral learned experience from each experience. For book details, go to http://www.facebook.com/AuthorAlisonODonnell.

Commencement tips: “Do not fear your own power! There are people who will try to beat you down; rise above it. There are people who will use their power to beat you down. Go around it. Then, mentally thank them for the life lesson. There are people who will support you. Show gratitude. Your success will have been earned. Embrace it.”

Michael A. Battey, 65, a podiatrist, lives in East Greenwich. He authored “The Parent Trap, Vol. 1,” the first of a two-volume collection of humorous and insightful observations on contemporary teen parenting. For book details, go to http://www.parenttrapcolumns.com.

Commencement tips: “There is a power to kindness.There is no act, which you can choose, which will be more powerful. It is stronger than the most reasoned logic. It can vanquish the sharpest wit. Deceptive at times and preternaturally puzzling, it is your best ally. It elevates discussions and makes you a better person. It is defining, and it is memorable.”

L. A. Jacob, 50, a government claims auditor for CVS, lives in Central Falls. She authored “Grimaulkin,” a book about a young wizard who was sent to prison for summoning demons. Now he’s out trying to be a better man, but others want to use his knowledge and abilities – against his parole. For book details, go to http://www.paperangelpress.com/pages/books/grimaulkin.php.

Commencement tips: “I published my first book at 48, but I’ve been writing since I was 15. Why did I wait so long? Because I was afraid. Afraid of what my family would say about me, of how the book would be received. Here’s my advice: Don’t wait. Life is too short. Buy the darn shoes you love.”

Phyllis Calvey, 68, an educator and story teller who lives in Bellingham, MA. Her latest book, “The Butterfly Club,” presents real people’s stories of how God can, and does, use signs to communicate His presence to those in need. For book details, go to http://www.butterflyclubbook.com.

Commencement Tips: “The odds were probably a thousand to one to be published, and yet I quit my job to be a writer. My Dad said, “You could be the one. How much does a book sell for these days? $6.95? When you sell a million, that’s…” But all I heard was the word “when”, it immediately seemed to change the odds!”

For more information about the ARIA, go to http://www.riauthors.org.