Three issues for advocacy

Three things you need to know about aging issues this week.

First, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has proposed raising the cap on the amount of earnings subject to Social Security Payroll tax withholding. “If we apply the Social Security payroll tax to income above $250,000, we could immediately bring in enough revenue to the Social Security trust fund to extend it for decades and also be able to increase benefits,” he says. Currently the cap is wage income of $118,500. And it does seem unfair that middle class and lower class folks have to pay on ALL of their income while upper class folks only pay on a small portion of their income. It makes a certain sense although those paying these higher payroll taxes on their wages would not, under the current system, recoup much from changed Social Security benefits. Thus Social Security would be of even less benefit to those in the upper middle class and above. Wouldn’t you think this politically powerful group would then work to change Social Security into a means-tested program or even eliminate it? Still….

Second, Administration for Community Living issued the ‘final rule’ for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs in the Federal Register. They have been working on this for years (actually, since 1975 when the program was first authorized in the Older Americans Act – 40 years or so should be perfect don’t you think?). Each state operates its ombudsman program a little differently and there is a beauty in diversity, but some consistency of approach is also helpful. After years of working with the states and other interested partners, official guidance is now available on how to operate a Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman program. With the quality of Long Term Support Services still needing improvement, the demand for good LTC ombudsman can only increase. These programs are always looking for volunteers.

Third, the Senate Committee on Aging released a report on increasing the use of generics in Medicare Part D. You would think this would be a no-brainer that both parties could get behind. The Medicare Part D drug plans could do more to promote the use of generics; maybe some incentives are in order. But Medicare beneficiaries need education too so that they understand the safety and cost savings of using generic drugs. We probably need some ads on the History Channel and the Hallmark channel to counter the constant drug company ads. Oh, and then there’s the prescribers. But that’s a whole other post.

That’s it. Pick an issue. Do some advocacy!

Walk Your Way Around This Disease

A silent disease is stalking you. It waits, unbidden, unseen. You may think I’m talking about high blood pressure. Certainly a good answer, but I’m talking today about weak bones, the precursor to osteoporosis. For women over 50, 1 out of 2 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture before they die; for men it’s one in 5.

We have about 10 million Americans who we know have osteoporosis, diagnosed. But there’s 3-4 times as many people who have lost some bone mass, who have weak bones and are at risk for the disease. And if you are over 65 and you have a hip bone fracture, chances are 1 in 5 that you’ll die within a year. What we need is a way to strengthen bones.

So what’s to be done, my Aunt May asks. She’s 80 and doesn’t go out all that much and her sister died of a hip fracture and subsequent hospitalization. The answer, unsurprisingly, is walking. Brisk walking, heck, any walking, will help strengthen your bones. That’s what I tell her. Jogging works, jumping rope works (Aunt May gives me a look when I suggest this to her. Proper ladies just don’t jump rope.) But a recent study done by the Indiana School of Medicine suggests that brisk walking is the best option of all.

Why does Aunt May love this idea? First, it’s cheap. She already has a pair of walking shoes. She calls them sneakers. So there’s no upfront costs to start walking. Second, she knows how to do it so there’s no training involved, no Tai Chi moves to learn, no yoga positions to master. Her main problem with it is that she has to get up from a very comfortable wingback chair and go outside and do it. But she’s finally agreed to walk to the end of the block and back.

I tell her she’ll feel better. The fresh air will do her good. Her neighborhood is safe. (Some aren’t and then to walk, a person needs to find a mall or a large store and walk the aisles.) She’ll meet her neighbors — not a convincing argument for my reclusive aunt. I try to convince her to visualize her bones getting denser and stronger. Finally I suggest we walk together a couple mornings a week. That gets her. I’m her favorite nephew, she says. Note: I’m her only nephew. She loves that joke.) Problem is I live 600 miles away, but I suggest that I call her in the morning of a walk day and we’ll head out at the same time and talk after we’ve finished our respective walks. She’s good with that. We’ll see how it goes. Good for us both to get out there for a walk every day. Strengthen those bones.