COVID-19 and 2021: Looking into the Crystal Ball

Published in the Pawtucket Times on December 28, 2020

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continue to surge across the nation.  Yesterday, nearly 18,986,236 Americans have contracted COVID-19 with over 331,930 dying, says the John Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center. Projection models say that deaths may spike to over 500,000 by March 2021.

As 2021 approaches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that 1.9 million people throughout the nation have gotten a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.  CDC also warned that a new variant COVID can be more rapidly transmissible than other circulating strains of SARS-COC-2.

Even with the dissemination of a safe and effective COVID-19 next year, many experts say that COVID-19 will around for a long time.  We are now seeing New Year predictions being made about COVID-19’s future impact on the delivery of care to seniors. The New York-based Aloe Care Health, one of the world’s most advanced voice-activated medical alert and communication service for elder care, recently brought seven experts together, to make predictions as to how COVID-19 pandemic will impact the provision of healthcare, insurtech, caregiving services and aging services in the upcoming year.  

Predictions from Health Care Experts

According to a statement released by Aloe Care Health on Dec. 22, these invited experts see a ‘Better Year Ahead.”  Here are some of their insightful predictions: 

Jay H. Sanders, M.D., CEO, The Global Telemedicine Group, member of the Aloe Care Advisory Board, observed: “The best examination room is where the patient lives, not where the doctor works. And, any variant of the following: telemedicine is to healthcare as Amazon is to shopping; as Netflix is to the movie theater, and as on-line banking is to your local bank.” 

“While 2020 turned the world upside down, it also revealed the massive gaps and deficits that exist in caregiving and senior care. I think 2021 will be the ‘Year of the Caregiver’ as companies, the senior care industry, and leading service organizations come to terms with how to best serve these underpaid and undervalued everyday heroes,” stated Amie Clark, Co-Founder and Senior Editor at the Clackamas, Oregon-based The Senior List.  

Donato Tramuto, Author, Chairman and Founder of Health eVillages, noted: “After a year highlighted by the devastating impact of COVID-19, vaccinations and other measures bring us hope to combat the virus in 2021. However, it is also important that we pay attention to the unintended consequences of COVID-19. As we safely social distance to decrease exposure risk, we must find ways to intervene and deal with the social isolation and loneliness caused by the lack of connection. I expect the next decade to bring innovations in business and healthcare to help us rebuild our community of connections and address the loneliness epidemic.” 

“Aging-in-place will continue to gain traction. Remote patient monitoring, personal emergency response technology, and other health matters will be addressed in-home. Health Insurance companies will redouble efforts to advance digital care management, using data to prevent acute health episodes. Covid19 will accelerate the digital adoption of remote patient care and communication. Masks will be required or desired in many public forums for much of 2021. Sadly, social distancing may be here to stay,” predicted Bob Hurley, Executive Advisor in Digital Health, eHealth; member of the Aloe Care Advisory Board. 

“COVID has demonstrated the power of telehealth to support health care workers, the older population and caregivers. It is amazing to see the adoption rate grow amongst all ages and the importance it addresses for the safety and independence of vulnerable populations. I expect innovative concepts to grow and expand in 2021 that will further empower providers and the population as a whole to live healthier and fulfilling lives,” anticipates Vicki Shepard, Health and Aging Expert, co-founder of Woman Business Leaders (WBL): Women Leading Healthcare 

“The last several months have given every one of us a dose of radical empathy for people who are isolated and alone. My profound hope is that this translates into better care for one another, especially older adults, in 2021 and beyond. And as our population ages overall (more than 10,000 of us reach 65 every day), I hope too that we collectively evolve beyond so many limiting, false, and often unconscious preconceptions about aging. This starts with products that are more thoughtfully, more beautifully designed, and extends right through to our everyday interactions.” Says Ray Spoljaric, CEO and Co-Founder, Aloe Care Health  

Finally, Jordan Mittler, Director and Founder of Mittler Senior Technology, adds: “In 2021, older adults will continue to rely on simple technology to interact with friends and family, as well as to function independently. Normalcy will take time to resume, and senior communities need to use home devices to function in society. Online shopping, online healthcare, online banking, and virtual communication will be major components of the lives of elders as we go into 2021.”  Jordan leads an inspiring group of teens teaching elders how to use technology to improve communication and daily activities. 

Predictions from a Rhode Island Physician

Over the months, Michael Fine, M.D., Chief Health Strategist, City of Central Falls, says that the COVID-19 pandemic made seniors to feel isolated and vulnerable. “As people get vaccinated it will let people feel more comfortable about moving around.  But January and February will be very hard month,” he warns. 

As we move into 2021, Fine predicts that “many people will think twice before moving to congregate settings of any sort, and we will live with new and burdensome precautions for a long time.”  He thinks that Rhode Island will lose some of its assisted living facilities and nursing homes due to the ongoing pandemic.  

Next year, Fine recommends that older Rhode Islanders stay close to home until they are vaccinated and use food delivery services where possible.  “The best way to cope is to use the telephone a lot and go out walking as much as possible, and to listen to lots of music and read a lot,” he says.   

“COVID-19 has changed how we live our lives.  Wearing a face mask and social distancing are the new normal. “I think we will go back to life as it was.  But it will take 3 to 5 years,” says Fine.   

Fine, who formerly served as the state’s Director of Health, has some thoughts about combating the COVID-19 surge in the Ocean State.  “My advice continues to be to shut bars and restaurants for indoor dining and to keep schools open, until we drop to below 2 new cases/100,000 population per day.  Everyone who works outside their homes should be tested twice a week, and every employer should make sure that’s happening, and everyone positive should be isolated for 10 days, and all contacts go into quarantine. We need employers to take the lead on this, because government has not been able to get it done,” states Fine.

Spotlight on Government Action

“It is time we all look hard at our political leadership, which has chosen to keep factories, bars and restaurants open, at the cost of hundreds of lives and a robust economy, while the virus is spreading in our communities, hitting people of color hardest.  We need to look at ourselves and our faith communities as well, allowing this to happen instead to speaking up for the sanctity of human life,” says Fine. “Democracy depends on the consent of the governed.  We all went along.  This response represents the most fundamental kind of institutional racism, the kind that puts profit in front of the lives of people of color and the communities in which people of color live,” he adds.

“All level of government failed.  SARS-CoV-2 is a cold virus.  We remain completely unprepared for a truly dangerous virus, which is evolving somewhere around the world, and will hit elders and people of color hardest again,” warns Fine. 

Older Georgian Voters Key to Winning Senate Runoff Election

Published in the Pawtucket Times on December 21, 2020

Weiss Both Democrats and Republicans know that the proverbial clock is ticking.  It’s 15 days before the Georgia’s Senate runoff election scheduled for Jan. 15.   At press time, 1,336,136 registered Georgia voters have gone to the polls, says the U.S. Election Project.   The percent turnout of registered voters is 17.5 percent.    

Although Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden beat President Trump to take the White House and the House Democrats maintain a very slim majority in their chamber, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can still block Democratic legislative proposals by controlling the upper chamber’s agenda.  He must keep two GOP Senate seats up for grabs in next month’s U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia.  A Democratic win will give the party a majority 50 Senate seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie.  In order to pick up the two GOP Senate seats, held by incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Democrats must successfully mobilize voters and adequately fund the campaigns of the Democrat candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnoc. 

Capturing Georgia’s Senior Vote 

A new poll, released on Dec. 11 by AARP Georgia, predicts that age 50 and over voters may well bring the two Democratic Senate candidates to Capitol Hill.  Social Security, Medicare and Nursing home protections are key issues for these older voters, says the pollsters.

 The survey of 1,250 2020 Georgia voters, including 857 age 50-plus voters and an oversample of 358 Black voters age 50-plus, was conducted on behalf of AARP by the bipartisan team of Fabrizio Ward and Hart Research Associates between Nov. 30 and Dec. 4, 2020.  The telephone/cell phone poll results were published in a 11-page report, “50+ Voters and the Georgia State Runoff Elections.”   

According to AARP Georgia’s bipartisan poll, both U.S. Senate races are statistically tied, with Democrat Jon Ossoff (48 precent) narrowly leading Republican incumbent David Perdue (46 percent) and Democrat Raphael Warnock (47 percent) edging out Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler (46 percent). But among voters age 50 and over, the poll shows both the Republican candidates lead their Democratic challenger by identical margins, 53 percent for Perdue and Loeffler versus 42 percent for Ossoff and Warnock. Just percent of the voters are undecided.

Further, the poll found majorities of Republicans and Democrats age 50 and over are more likely to vote for a candidate advocating for policies that protect older Americans, like using Medicare’s buying power to help lower drug prices. “These results show that both races are a dead heat and time is running out for candidates to address the concerns of 50-plus voters,” said AARP Georgia State Director Debra Tyler-Horton in a statement announcing the release of the poll’s results. “To win, candidates must discuss the issues that matter to 50-plus Georgians now – like preventing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, lowering drug prices and protecting seniors in nursing homes,” she says.  

Georgia’s Republican and Democratic 50-plus voters told the pollsters that they are much more or somewhat more likely to support a Senate candidate who advocates to protect Medicare (Republicans 83 percent, Democrats 96 percent) and to allow the national health insurance program to negotiate with drug companies (Republicans 93 percent, Democrats 94 percent).  The survey’s respondents also wanted Congress to protect Social Security (Republicans 90 percent. Democrats 93 percent). 

Additionally, the older survey respondents call for more protections for nursing home residents during COVID-19 (Republicans 79 percent, Democrats 95 percent).  They want Congress for providing tax credits for family caregivers to help offset costs (Republicans 69 percent, Democrats 90 percent), and support the strengthening of federal age discrimination laws (Republicans 53 percent, Democrats 81 precent). 

As to today’s COVID-19, pandemic, the AARP Georgia survey findings indicate that older Georgian’s willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has increased a substantial 14 points—from 41 percent to 55 percent—since September, when over half said they would not agree to be vaccinated.  And two in five 50-plus voters told pollsters that nursing home safety is “extremely important” to them in 2020.  It’s especially important to Black voters (53 percent), people who know someone who died from COVID-19 (51 percent), and to those who worry a lot about getting COVID-19 (48 percent). 

NCPSSM to Encourage Turnout of Older Georgia Voters

Recognizing the importance of mobilizing Georgia’s older voters, the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) announced the launching of a voter outreach campaign in the Peach State to encourage turnout and promote Democratic Senate candidates Warnock and Ossof as advocates for the state’s seniors. The campaign includes radio ads in the Atlanta market, postcard mailings to thousands of National Committee members and supporters throughout the state, and social media outreach to the Georgia’s voters.The National Committee has made a five-figure advertising buy on three Atlanta radio stations beginning December 15th through the runoff election on January 5th. 

“Only two candidates are ready to put Georgia seniors’ health and economic well-being first, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock,” the radio ad tells voters.  Postcards are being mailed to more than 7,000 National Committee members in Georgia, bearing the message, “Your best future starts with your vote for John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.”

“We need the leadership, vision and determination of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to fight for seniors in the U.S. Senate. They will work to protect Social Security and Medicare from harmful proposals to cut the benefits Georgians have earned.  They will be voices to strengthen the critical lifelines of Social Security and Medicare during the COVID pandemic, when older Georgians are counting on their earned benefits more than ever,” said Max Richtman, NCPSSM’s president and CEO.  “Georgia has 1.3 million Social Security beneficiaries and 1.8 million Medicare enrollees.  The average Social Security benefit in Georgia is $1,500 per month.  Those benefits provide $45.3 billion in annual economic stimulus to communities across the state, he notes.

While Warnock and Ossoff earned the National Committee’s endorsement by making it clear that they will standup to protect and strengthen Social Security, the incumbent GOP Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have paid lip service to protecting Social Security, says Richtman.  As U.S. Senators, they have supported GOP positions of cutting the benefits of future beneficiaries and deferring Social Security’s payroll tax last August that will force workers to repay those funds back in early 2021, he says.

Controlling the Senate’s Legislative Agenda

“Wins by Warnock and Ossoff would not only be a victory for Georgians. It would give President-elect Biden and his party the power in the U.S. Senate to actually get things done for seniors after four years of obstruction, says Richtman.

For a copy of AARP Georgia’s poll findings, go to:
https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/politics/2020/2020-election-battleground-states-senate-georgia-runoff-election.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00401.029.pdf

Democrats Will Have to Compromise if They Lose Georgia Senate Run-Off

With Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden taking the White House, the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) called on Congressional lawmakers to address the needs of older Americans during lame-duck session ending Jan. 3 and throughout President Biden’s first 100 days in office.  Can Congressional lawmakers put aside political differences to pass a last-ditch Stimulus package compromise, a defense bill, and consider aging legislation piling up in just 27 days when the lame-duck session ends?  Will there be political grid lock after President Biden takes office on Jan. 20 if the GOP maintains control of the Senate block Congress from taking up legislation impacting older Americans?

Legislation Piling Up in Lame-Duck Session

“Though this is normally a time when expectations for Congressional action are low, the National Committee expects our elected representatives to act on behalf of seniors and other struggling Americans hit hard by the pandemic,” says NCPSSM president and CEO Max Richtman, in correspondence sent to Congress on Dec. 3.

Across the nation seniors are the hardest hit age group by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  “Eight out of 10 deaths from COVID in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older. Whether as part of an omnibus funding bill, continuing resolution or COVID relief package, The National Committee is urging lawmakers to pass urgently needed measures for seniors,” says Richtman.

Richtman calls on Congress to address the Social Security “Notch” issue. He warns that if Congress doesn’t take action, workers born in 1960 and 1961, will see lower Social Security retirement benefits in the future. According to the Chief Actuary of Social Security, this will sharply reduce benefits for those born in 1960 compared to the benefits received by people born just one year earlier, creating an effect known as a “notch,” notes NCPSSM’s correspondence.

Congress can correct this notch in Social Security benefits by passing Rep. John Larson’s (D-CT) H.R. 7499, the “Social Security COVID Correction and Equity Act,” says Richtman.  The legislative proposal would increase benefits for those born in 1960 and 1961 without impact the benefits for any other beneficiary. 

In October, the Social Security Administration announced that approximately 70 million Americans would see a meager 1.3 percent increase Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income. “More than half of seniors receive over one-half of their income from Social Security, and it provides at least 90 percent of income for more than one-in-five seniors.  These seniors are dependent on a reasonable COLAs to maintain even a modest standard of living in retirement,” said Richtman.

With retirees experiencing financial difficulties during the pandemic, a $20 increase in their monthly check might not help them to pay for spiraling health care and drug costs, along with the expenses of purchasing personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to keep them safe. 

Richtman’s correspondence also pushes for passage of Rep. Peter DeFazio’s H.R. 8598, “Emergency Social Security COLA for 2021 Act,” to provide Social Security beneficiaries with a 3 percent increase (or a $250 per month flat increase) which would reduce the impact of the small 2021 COLA increase. 

Protecting the Fiscal Viability of Social Security

Last August, NCPSSM and aging advocacy groups opposed President Trump’s signed executive order that would allow employers to defer workers’ payroll tax contributions for the rest of the year.  Between Jan. 1, 2021 and April 30, 2021, these employees will be required to pay back their deferred payroll taxes, doubling their FICA taxes for the first four months of 2021.  The National Committee has supported efforts to ease the burden for those affected by this hardship. 

NCPSSM correspondence also called on Congress to extend a protection to lower-income Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, including ‘Money Follows the Person’ (which provides funding for states to help skilled nursing care patients to remain in their homes) and impoverishment protections for the spouses of Medicaid recipients receiving long-term care.

Finally, Richtman requested extending the funding for Medicare Low-Income and Enrollment Assistance, which provides funding for State Health Insurance Assistance Programs and Area Agencies on Aging to assist low-income seniors access programs such as the Medicare Prescription Drug Program Part D Low-Income Subsidy.

NCPSSM’s “wish list”, detailed in Richtman’s correspondence, could easily be rolled into a continuing resolution that Congress must pass by Dec. 11 to get the federal government operational. But, any of the legislative proposals pushed by The National Committee would be bottled up in the Senate, by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, referred to as the “grim reaper,” he Republicans maintain control of the Senate during the 117th Congress.

GOP ‘Grim Reaper’ Keeps Democratic Bills from Consideration

Last February, on Fox News Friday, anchor Bret Baier asked McConnell to confirm Democratic charges that House passed and Senate proposed legislation would never see the light of day on the Senate Floor.  At the time of this interview, the GOP Senator, controlling his chamber’s legislative agenda, confirmed that 395 bills sitting in his chamber would not be passed.

“It is true,” admitted McConnell during the Fox News interview.  “They’ve been on full left-wing parade over there, trotting out all of their left-wing solutions that are going to be issues in the fall campaign. They’re right. We’re not going to pass those.,” he said, recognizing the politics of a divided government. 

McConnell’s ‘Legislative Graveyard’ created by his blocking debate, markup and refusing to allow a vote on Democratic proposed legislation is well documented in the press and by a report released last September by Common Cause, a watch dog advocacy group with chapters in 35 states. “In fact, the Senate’s inaction has the 116th Congress on track to be the least productive in history, with just one percent of the bills becoming law [between] January 3, 2019 to September 16, 2020],” said Aaron Scherb, Common Cause’s director of legislation and author of the 2020 Democracy Scor

During an interview published on Sept. 16, 2020 in Newsweek, Scherb said, “There have been hundreds [of bills] that have been passed by the House at this point.  There have only been 158 enacted laws by this 116th Congress to this point.  Yet there are hundreds of bills that have passed the House but continue to sit in Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s desk, or his ‘legislative graveyard’ as it’s been called.”

With McConnell winning his reelection, the senator from Kentucky can only maintain control of the Senate’s legislative agenda if he can keep two GOP Senate seats up for grabs in next month’s Senate runoff in Georgia.  A Democratic win will give the party a majority 50 Senate seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie.

In order to pick up the two GOP Senate seats, held by incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Democrats must successfully mobilize voters and adequately fund the campaigns of Democrat Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnoc. At press time, millions of campaign dollars are pouring into Georgia’s Senate runoff elections, with the two GOP Senators bringing in more campaign donations because of Republican super-PACs giving them the spending edge. The Democrats are receiving their political contributions through small donors.

Even with the Democrats controlling the White House and House of Representatives, if McConnell maintains control of the Senate, legislative gridlock in the upper chamber will most certainly continue.  This will make it more difficult for the NCPSSM and other Washington, DC-based aging advocacy groups to successfully push for passage of legislation to ensure the financial security and health of seniors