Tag Archives: old

Social Security must be preserved

Social Security, one of the most successful government programs in U.S. history, marked its 80th anniversary this year. As it enters its ninth decade of providing basic income security for older Americans, GOP presidential candidates are working to undermine faith in it.

They decry Social Security as an “entitlement” and warn of its insolvency. Using their favorite tactic of divide and conquer, they claim the money won’t be there for young people. They say Americans can get better returns from investing the same small sliver of their paychecks in private markets. So why should the government take the money?

Please don’t drink their Kool-Aid. 

Social Security is not an entitlement. Each of us pays for it through a deduction of 6.2 percent from every paycheck. Our employers match that 6.2 percent and send the total amount to the federal government monthly.

When we draw from Social Security in retirement, we receive money we have invested in the system our entire lives. The earliest age to claim Social Security is 62. The monthly check is larger if a person waits until full retirement age, which is 66 or 67, depending on your year of birth.

Social Security is not insolvent, and young people need only look at how the program benefits their grandparents to see what a valuable investment it is. All of my older relatives and friends rely on Social Security as an important part of their retirement income. They are not moochers. They have earned their benefits.

Social Security was championed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and adopted by bipartisan Congressional majorities in 1935. Private charity had never fully met the needs of the poor and elderly poverty, a scourge that predated the Great Depression, grew more severe during the economic crisis.

The Social Security Act included old age insurance (the focus of this column), unemployment compensation, welfare benefits for the poor and survivor benefits for widows and orphans. Welfare — Aid to Families with Dependent Children — was abolished under Bill Clinton in 1996.

Many studies confirm that in the second half of the 20th century, Social Security helped significantly to reduce poverty among the elderly. Without Social Security today, 48 percent of Wisconsin seniors would descend below the poverty line.

Concerns about the solvency of Social Security have been addressed over the years in several ways: raising the retirement age; increasing the percentage of contributions; and raising the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes.

Currently, individuals do not have to pay Social Security taxes on income above $118,500. Lifting the payroll cap to $250,000, which Bernie Sanders proposes, would secure Social Security for at least the next three generations.

Of course, the GOP opposes any new taxes — even for a successful program that keeps millions from destitution. The financial windfall for investment firms is the real motive behind those who want to privatize Social Security. 

Why should Americans hand over our one small reserve of secure savings to the banks and Wall Street, whose practices have become more secretive and whose history is full of reckless speculation? Have we forgotten the near crash that took place only seven years ago? They not only stole our money, we had to bail them out!

Social Security guarantees all of us a minimum retirement income when we grow old. It must be preserved.

St. John’s on the Lake makes room for residents’ furry friends

Anyone who’s ever had an animal companion knows just how much joy they bring. Our companion animals play an important and irreplaceable role in our lifestyles and emotions. They help to guide us through life’s many struggles and have been proven beneficial to our health and happiness. 

One challenge we all face is aging, particularly when the time comes to move into a retirement community. It’s a hard choice to leave one home for another, and many seniors must face the decision of whether to take a beloved furry friend with them. 

During such transitional times, having the love and support of a cherished pet can make more of a difference than ever. Just ask the resident pet owners who live at St. John’s on the Lake, 1840 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. There, pets are welcomed with open hearts.

“Your pet sort of becomes everyone’s pet,” says resident pet owner Jack Ford, his curly coated tan pup Casper sitting beside him.

Residents walk freely through the halls with their dogs, take them outside to the outdoor doggie run, and socialize together at pet-themed events. 

“When I walk down the hall, usually people say, ‘Hi, Dexter,’” says Bill Lau, referring to his dog. “They say ‘hello’ to him before they even say ‘hello’ to me!” 

The cat owners also have their special place. One resident walks her sleek black cat Samantha in a lovely red harness during what would regularly be the dog hours.

For cat owner Mary McAndrews, whose cats all have been named after mystery authors, the decision to adopt Josephine was prompted by the hard choice the cat’s former “parent” had to face: Leave Josephine behind with a social worker when she entered senior living.

“Josephine was 8 years old,” explains McAndrews, “and the story that we heard was that she was brought in by a social worker. Her previous owner had two cats and was going into a senior facility that only allowed for her to keep one.” 

To celebrate the bonds between St. John’s residents and their pets, Lau conceived of a touching photography exhibit called the Pet Project. Resident photographers Dan Patrinos, Art Beaudry and Jim Ballard photographed 10 dogs, 14 cats and their owners in their homes at St. John’s. The display of black-and-white photographs features candid shots, portraits and group photographs of residents with their pets.

On a special side display titled Remembrance, photographs of pets who have passed are also included. This touching project is on display at St. John’s until mid-November and is free and open to the public.

The warmth that shines through each photograph evidences the power of pet companionship and the quality of life it adds to the residents and staff at St. John’s on the Lake. The photographs underscore the family atmosphere that St. John’s strives to create for everyone, including those for whom no family would be complete without an occasional “woof!” or “meow.”

New year, big tests for Affordable Care Act

The new year brings the big test of President Barack Obama’s beleaguered health care law: Will it work?

The heart of the law springs to life on Jan. 1, after nearly four years of political turmoil and three months of enrollment chaos. Patients will begin showing up at hospitals and pharmacies with insurance coverage bought through the nation’s new health care marketplaces.

The course of 2014 will show whether Obama can get affordable care to millions of people in need, without doing intolerable damage to the 85 percent of U.S. residents who already were insured.

Lots of Americans are nervous.

Will their new coverage be accepted? It’s a concern because insurers have reported problems with the customer information they’ve gotten from the government, including missing data and duplication.

How many more people will see old individual plans that they liked canceled? Will a flood of newly insured patients cause doctor shortages? Will businesses respond to the law by ditching their group plans or pushing more health costs onto workers?

About three-fourths of people who face changes to their job-based or other private coverage in 2014 blame the health law, a recent AP-GfK poll found. Yet the trend of employers trimming costly health benefits predates the law now widely known – by critics and advocates – as Obamacare.

Many people should benefit immensely.

People previously locked out of individual insurance by high prices or pre-existing health problems can get coverage to stave off the threat of medical bankruptcy. More low-income workers will come under Medicaid, in states that agreed to expand the safety-net program. Middle-class families without workplace coverage can get tax subsidies to help pay for their insurance. How much patients like the new plans, and whether they can afford the co-pays and deductibles, will become clear as they start visiting doctors.

The new year also launches the most contentious aspect of the law: the mandate that nearly everyone in the U.S. have health coverage, or pay a fine.

All this will unfold during the super-heated politics leading to November’s midterm elections.

Republicans and Democrats will jostle all year to influence the public’s assessment of changes to American health care not matched since Medicare and Medicaid were launched nearly a half-century ago.

Some dates – and moving parts – to watch in 2014:

JAN. 1

Coverage begins. Many low-income Americans who didn’t qualify for Medicaid in the past can use it now. People who signed up for private insurance in a state or federal marketplace by Dec. 24 (or later in some states) and have paid their first premium are now covered, too.

Coverage begins for workers at companies that have signed up for new small business plans through the marketplaces, also called health care exchanges.

Coverage lapses for people whose existing plans were canceled, if they haven’t signed up for a replacement or received an extension. At least 4.7 million people got cancellation notices, despite Obama’s promise that Americans with insurance they like could keep their old plans. Obama recently gave insurance companies the option of extending old plans for existing customers for a year, but only where state insurance commissioners give their OK.

The clock starts on the “individual mandate.” Nearly all U.S. citizens and legal residents are required to have “minimum essential coverage” for most of 2014, or pay a penalty. Most people already are insured through their jobs, Medicare, Medicaid, or military coverage and so don’t need to do anything.

Insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away people in poor health or kick customers out of plans when they get sick.

Women and people with pre-existing conditions pay the same rates as healthy men in the new plans. The law also limits how much more insurers can charge older people.

New insurance plans can’t put an annual dollar limit on care, or require individuals to pay more than $6,350 in out-of-pocket costs per year.

JAN. 10

Payment due. In most cases, marketplace customers who signed up by Dec. 24 have until now to pay the first month’s premium and get coverage for their January medical bills. Major national insurers agreed to accept payments 10 days into the month because of technical troubles plaguing online enrollment at HealthCare.gov. But buyers should check early with their insurance companies – some may not honor the grace period. A few states running their own marketplaces are granting even more time. Those who miss their deadline can get coverage starting Feb. 1.

JAN. 31

A temporary program for people denied coverage because of poor health ends. Tens of thousands of Americans with serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer were in the special program and needed new coverage for 2014. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, originally set to expire Dec. 31, was extended one month to help sick people whose enrollment was stymied by HealthCare.gov computer crashes.

Some people could lose coverage for a prescription they’ve been taking. The Obama administration urged insurers to temporarily let customers keep filling prescriptions covered by a previous plan, but not their new one, through January.

LATE MARCH

The patched-up health care website will face a major test if too many people rush to sign up in the final days of open enrollment. Watch for a possible return of rampant crashes and error messages.

On the other hand, low enrollment signals another danger. The law’s design relies on younger, healthier enrollees to offset the cost of older and sicker consumers. If the numbers stay low, it’s likely that enrollees will be disproportionately people with more expensive medical needs, putting a financial strain on insurers. The White House set a goal of 7 million sign-ups for private coverage. More than 1 million had enrolled by Dec. 20, Obama said.

MARCH 31

Last chance for open enrollment through the federal marketplace or 14 states running their own exchanges. Late March enrollees will be covered beginning May 1. (It’s possible the administration could decide to extend open enrollment, if major website problems resurface and interfere with sign-ups.)

This is the deadline for most people to get coverage to avoid a fine. The Obama administration says, however, that those whose existing health insurance was canceled because of the Affordable Care Act will be exempt from the penalty. People who lose coverage during the year can go without for three months before facing a penalty.

The enrollment deadline doesn’t apply to people signing up for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, based on income. People can apply for those programs at any time and coverage begins at once.

The March 31 deadline also won’t stop those who need to sign up later in 2014 because of a “qualifying life event.” The events include things like getting married, having a baby, or leaving a job that provided insurance. Qualifying events trigger a special enrollment period lasting 60 days.

APRIL 15

No worries yet. Those who go without insurance won’t owe penalties until federal taxes are due in 2015 for the previous year’s income. Tax returns filed in 2015 will include health insurance information; insurers will send notices to confirm that taxpayers were covered in 2014. People who bought plans in the marketplaces and received either too little or too much in premium subsidies during the year also will square things with the IRS in April 2015.

NOV. 4

The midterm elections will be yet another referendum on the health care law passed in March 2010 with no Republican support. Obama will still be in the midst of his final term, however. So even if Republicans emerge with control of both chambers of Congress, they will still face two more years with Obama in the White House to veto attempts to undermine his signature law.

NOV. 15

Open enrollment for 2015 begins. Americans can sign up for insurance or switch to a different plan. And they’ll see what rate increases are in store for the coming year.

DEC. 31

The extension ends today for people who were able to keep their old individual plans for an extra year, even though the coverage wasn’t up to the law’s minimum standards.

COMING IN 2015

JAN. 1

Large employers – those with more than 50 employees – that don’t offer health plans face a possible tax penalty. The penalties are designed to discourage businesses from dropping their existing health plans, although some have already begun to do so.

JAN. 15

Open enrollment for 2015 ends.

APRIL 15

Penalties for individuals who weren’t insured in 2014 kick in. The penalty is $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. It goes up in later years. The IRS can deduct the penalty from a taxpayer’s refund.

COMING IN 2018

So-called “Cadillac health plans” offered by some employers come under a new tax. It hits plans that spend more than $10,200 per worker or $27,500 for a family. Most job-based coverage isn’t that generous, but corporate executives get such plans, and so do some workers in jobs with strong union contracts. Some companies will pass the tax on to workers and others may trim employee benefits to avoid it.

Study seeks super agers’ secrets to brain health

They’re called “super agers” – men and women who are in their 80s and 90s, but with brains and memories that seem far younger.

Researchers are looking at this rare group in the hope that they may find ways to help protect others from memory loss. And they’ve had some tantalizing findings: Imaging tests have found unusually low amounts of age-related plaques along with more brain mass related to attention and memory in these elite seniors.

“We’re living long but we’re not necessarily living well in our older years and so we hope that the SuperAging study can find factors that are modifiable and that we’ll be able to use those to help people live long and live well,” said study leader Emily Rogalski, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University’s cognitive neurology and Alzheimer’s disease center in Chicago.

The study is still seeking volunteers, but chances are you don’t qualify: Fewer than 10 percent of would-be participants have met study criteria.

“We’ve screened over 400 people at this point and only about 35 of them have been eligible for this study, so it really represents a rare portion of the population,” Rogalski said.

They include an octogenarian attorney, a 96-year-old retired neuroscientist, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor and an 81-year-old pack-a-day smoker who drinks a nightly martini.

To qualify, would-be participants have to undergo a battery of mental tests. Once enrolled, they undergo periodic imaging scans and other medical tests. They also must be willing to donate their brains after death.

The memory tests include lists of about 15 words. “Super agers can remember at least nine of them 30 minutes later, which is really impressive because often older adults in their 80s can only remember just a couple,” Rogalski said.

Special MRI scans have yielded other remarkable clues, Rogalski said. They show that in super agers, the brain’s cortex, or outer layer, responsible for many mental functions including memory, is thicker than in typical 80- and 90-year-olds. And deep within the brain, a small region called the anterior cingulate, important for attention, is bigger than even in many 50- and 60-year-olds.

The super agers aren’t just different on the inside; they have more energy than most people their age and share a positive, inquisitive outlook. Rogalski said the researchers are looking into whether those traits contribute to brain health.

Other research has linked a positive attitude with overall health. And some studies have suggested that people who are “cognitively active and socially engaged” have a reduced chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but which comes first _ a healthy brain or a great attitude – isn’t known, said Heather Snyder, director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Snyder said the SuperAging study is an important effort that may help provide some answers.

Edith Stern is among the super agers. The petite woman looks far younger than her 92 years, and is a vibrant presence at her Chicago retirement home, where she acts as a sort of room mother, volunteering in the gift shop, helping residents settle in and making sure their needs are met.

Stern lost most of her family in the Holocaust and takes her work seriously.

“What I couldn’t do for my parents, I try to do for the residents in the home,” she said.

Stern acknowledges she’s different from most people at the home, even many younger residents.

“I am young – inside. And I think that’s the difference,” she said.

“I grasp fast,” she adds. “If people say something, they don’t have to tell me twice. I don’t forget it.”

She’s different in other ways, too.

“When you get old, people are mainly interested in themselves. They talk about the doctor, what hurts,” she said. “You are not so important that you just concentrate on yourself. You have to think about other people.”

Study participant Don Tenbrunsel has a similar mindset. The 85-year-old retired businessman doesn’t think of himself as a super ager. “Neither do my children,” he says, chuckling.

But Tenbrunsel says his memory has been sharp “from the time I was born. My mother used to say, ‘Donald, come sing with me – not because I had a good voice, but because I always knew the words,” he said. “I think I’m just lucky, not only with respect to my memory, but I’m able to get around very well; I walk a lot and I have a pretty good attitude toward life itself.”

Tenbrunsel volunteers several hours a week at a food pantry run by the Chicago church where he is a parishioner. One recent morning in the sun-filled rectory kitchen, he nimbly packaged ham and cheese sandwiches, set out bags of chips and cans of soda, and cheerfully greeted a steady stream of customers.

“Good morning, good to see you,” he said, standing at the pantry’s bright red door. He gave everyone their choice of chips _ a small gesture but important, he said, because it gives them some sense of control over their hard-luck lives.

“I enjoy doing it. I probably get more out of it than I give,” Tenbrunsel said.

Ken Zwiener, of Deerfield, Ill., is another super ager. He had “more than an inkling” he might qualify for the study, and his kids encouraged him to enroll.

“They said, ‘Dad, your brain is the best thing about you,’” the 81-year-old retired businessman recalled.

He’s a golfer and Broadway musical “nut” who created a 300-plus-page computer database of shows. Zwiener uses an iPad, recently went hot-air ballooning and is trying to learn Spanish.

He also pours himself a vodka martini every night and is a pack-a-day cigarette smoker, but says he doesn’t think his habits have made much difference. His healthy brain, he says, may be due to heredity and genes, but Zwiener said he hopes the study comes up with more “scientific insights”.

“My dad lived into his middle 90s and was pretty sharp right up until the day he died,” Zwiener said.

Zwiener’s motivation for joining the study was simple: The best man at his wedding died of Alzheimer’s disease before age 50.

“To lose a mind … is just a terrible way to go,” he said.

On the Web

SuperAging study: http://tinyurl.com/lo75t7b

Alzheimer’s Association: http://www.alz.org

SAGE releases guide to assist aging LGBT population

SAGE/Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders this week released a guide to answer questions from older adult service providers about differences in the aging experience for LGBT people and how those differences should be “reflected and honored.” 



SAGE estimates that there are 1.5 million adults aged 65 and older who identify as LGB. By 2030 the number is expected to double.

Previous research has shown that housing is the No. 1 issue for LGBT seniors.

“The vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults have lived through discrimination, social stigma, and the effects of prejudice both past and present,” said SAGE. “Aging service providers should be aware that the effects of a lifetime of stigma, discrimination, rejection and ridicule puts LGBT older adults at greater risk for physical and mental illnesses,” along with other issues including social isolation and delayed care-seeking.


SAGE, with the 28-page “Inclusive Services for LGBT Older Adults

A Practical Guide To Creating Welcoming Agencies” guide, seeks to:

• Address common misconceptions about LGBT people.

• Promote the incorporation of LGBT inclusive terminology in intake forms, emergency contact forms and other documents.

• Include marketing techniques that can also appeal to and welcome LGBT people.

• Encourage LGBT-specific programming.

SAGE, in a statement, added, “

Clearly defined non-discrimination policies also play a role in ensuring that an agency or provider’s environment is inclusive for diverse populations, and this should extend to all staff members, not just supervisors.

Chapters in the guide include: “Knowledge Is Key to Inclusion ,” “Terminology Makes a Difference,” “Good First Impressions Demonstrate Inclusion,” “Set the Tone Through Programming,” “Gender Affirmation Is Vital,” “Lasting Change Starts with Everyone,” and “Inclusion Is an Ongoing Process.”

The guide can be downloaded here.

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