Tag Archives: AARP

Turns out Medicare comes in quite handy


This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

You’ve heard the story already.

I’m not yet retired fully from the working world. However, I am enjoying many of the benefits of retirement.

My wife and I pay a little less for meals at buffet-style restaurants; we get AARP discounts at hotels; our property taxes, under Texas law, are frozen in perpetuity … and we are on Medicare!

The closest thing we have in this country to “socialized medicine” comes in quite handy, I learned yesterday.

The company where I work part time was handing out flu shots to employees. You had to be covered by company-sponsored insurance to qualify, given that the company was paying for the inoculations.

I work there part time, right? I am not insured by the company plan. I brought up my Veterans Administration coverage to the woman who was administering the shots. I had to get my shot at the VA clinic in Amarillo. Oh, darn.

Hey, what about Medicare? She checked with her office. No problem! Medicare’s insurance pays for it.

So, I got my shot hassle free.

Yes, indeed, this retirement thing — which hasn’t yet arrived fully for my wife and me — is turning out all right.

We’ve already paid into the Medicare program throughout our working lives. We now are getting some of the benefit back from the program that was founded in 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill that created the law.

Thank you, Mr. President.

How do you prepare for a trip … to Mars?


Space travel always has intrigued me.

I wanted to fly into space. Indeed, I applied once for NASA’s “journalist in space” program, hoping the space agency would pick me to be the first working journalist to report from Earth orbit.

The program ended on Jan. 28, 1986, when the shuttle Challenger blew up, killing all seven crew members — including the first teacher ever chosen for a space mission.

Well, we’ve been to the moon. Twelve men walked on its surface, making them quite an exclusive club of adventurers; there should have been 14 of them, except that Apollo 13 didn’t make it to the moon’s surface.

One of those men was interviewed by the AARP magazine and was asked about a possible — if not probable — flight to Mars.

Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, said the greatest danger facing those who land on Mars will be “mental status. It is the growing isolation, the irritation, the realization that this is the way it’s going to be.”

Think about Aldrin, by the way, for just a moment. Does anyone know off the top of their head the name of the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean? Or the second person to break the sound barrier in a jet? Most of us, though, do know the name of the second man to walk on the moon. Hey, I’m just thinking out loud for a moment.

I’ve tried to ponder over the years as a Mars mission became more of a probability: How does NASA find the right person to participate in a mission that will take years to complete?

What in the world does the space agency ask the prospective candidate?

How will you cope with knowing you’re going to be many millions of miles from Earth? How willing are you to accept the possibility that you might not return home? The moon missions were a relatively simple mission compared to this one; do you have what it takes to spend years in a space suit?

I guess I am intrigued by the psychological makeup of the individuals chosen to make this journey.

Aldrin has written that we could land on Mars by 2040. Let me see: I’ll be 91 by then. That’s too old to make the trip.

However, if my luck holds out, I’ll be around to see it and if my luck is even better, I’ll have enough of my marbles still intact to know and appreciate what’s happening in real time.

Aldrin thinks the commitment to land on Mars will come during the next president’s administration. “The next president,” he told AARP, “will use the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions to say the U.S. will lead international efforts to land on Mars within two decades.”

I pray that he’s right.


Start shouting for Alzheimer's research

T.R. Reid, writing in the January-February AARP Bulletin, puts it succinctly and powerfully.

Alzheimer’s disease is “the most expensive disease in America” and it is “devouring federal and state health care budgets, and depleting the life savings of million of victims and their families.”

So, what are the federal and state governments doing about it? What kind of public resources are they committing to fighting this dangerous killer?

Too damn little, according to Reid.

He’s correct. That must change.


Reid, a former reporter for the Washington Post, notes that the “cost of caring for Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias has surpassed the cost of treatment for cancer patients or victims of heart disease.” Alzhiemer’s disease, says Huntington Potter, a University of Colorado neurobiologist, is “going to bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid.”

Let’s get busy, folks.

Alzheimer’s disease afflicts 5.2 million Americans — at the moment. The number is going to increase as the nation’s population continues to age. One projection puts the number of Americans suffering from the disease by 2050 at 13.8 million.

How has Alzheimer’s research funding stacked up to other deadly diseases? Reid writes the federal government has committed $5.4 billion on cancer research, $1.2 billion on heart disease and $3 billion on HIV/AIDS research. Alzheimer’s disease research will get $566 million.

My own interest in this disease is intensely personal. My mother died of complications of Alzheimer’s in 1984. She was 61 years of age when she died. Sixty-one! She’d exhibited symptoms for perhaps a decade.

The pain of watching a loved one lose their memory, their cognitive skill, their ability to take care of basic needs is beyond description. Take my word for it.

And that pain is going to spread as more Americans fall victim to this merciless killer.

Federal government estimates put the cost of Alzheimer’s care at about $214 billion annually. Medicare and Medicaid pay about $150 billion per year; the rest of the cost falls on patients and their families, according to Reid.

Why hasn’t there been an outcry for federal funding of this disease as there have been for cancer or HIV/AIDS? Part of it is stigma, Reid reports. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, “I think the problem is that there’s still a stigma attached to Alzheimer’s and other dementias. People don’t want to talk about it. By contrast, LGBT groups have no qualms about campaigning for HIV/AIDS research. The cancer advocacy groups are extremely well-organized, vocal and politically skillful, with their Race for the Cure and everyone wearing pink for a month.”

I’ve made it my mission with this blog to call attention whenever possible to the need to boost attention to this disease. Its impact doesn’t just affect those who afflicted with it. It causes severe pain and anguish on care-givers and other loved ones.

The good news — if you want to call it such — is that some notable celebrities are beginning to put the word out there. One of them is Seth Rogen, the comic actor known most recently for his role in the controversial film “The Interview.”

“Americans whisper the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ because their government whispers the word ‘Alzheimers,'” Rogen told a Senate committee hearing in 2014. Rogen’s own interest has been fueled by his mother-in-law’s struggle with the disease. “It needs to be yelled and screamed to the point that it finally gets the attending and the funding it deserves.”

Well, young man, I’m with you. I’ll yell and scream for as long as it takes.