Latest from OWL

Wednesday May 06, 2015

OWL’s 2015 Mother’s Day Report Celebrates Women Encore Entrepreneurs

In case you were wondering where the next economic boom is coming from, OWL believes it lies with the increasing number of women entrepreneurs.

That and more is included in OWL’s 2015 Mother’s Day Report, ‘Our Women Mean Business: Encore Careers After 40’ also highlights obstacles that could prevent that potential from being reached, including the meager amount of venture capital going to women. Women received a dismal 7% in VC funds in the first half of 2013 and there are no indications it has gotten any better.

Yet there are hard numbers that demonstrate VC firms would do well to fund more women. For example, women-led technology firms are more capital-efficient, and when backed by venture capital bring in 12% more revenue than their male counterparts. Overall, venture capital firms that invest in women do better than those that don’t.

The report was released May 6 at the National Press Club; the briefing included information on OWL’s upcoming campaign to increase the percentage of VC funds going to women from 7% to 20% by 2020. OWL is the only national nonprofit focusing on opening the VC funding tap to more women.

OWL is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. “We were founded because women faced many more challenges achieving economic security than men,” says OWL Executive Director Bobbie Brinegar. “What’s exciting about the trends we’re seeing now is the emphasis on getting women the tools they need to open new businesses. And it’s not necessarily about fairness. It’s about more economic opportunity for everyone.”

She pointed to a report from Babson College that found six million jobs would be created over five years if women entrepreneurs started with the same amount of capital as men.

The report debunks the conventional wisdom that most successful entrepreneurs are in their 20s. People 55 and older are almost twice as likely to found successful companies as those 20-34.

Women are also ideally suited to solve marketplace problems, since they make close to 85% of all consumer decisions.

“Our nation needs the talents of 100% of our population,” said OWL Board Chair Margaret Huyck. “And if we don’t start making sure everyone has equal access to capital, we will have a tougher time competing globally. Because a number of countries are waking up to the untapped talents of women – and they’re being very aggressive about changing the equation.”

The report includes OWL’s first-ever Hall of Notables, ten remarkable women who embody the spirit of encore entrepreneurism. Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, the first African American female combat pilot, who now runs a successful consulting business; Carol Gardner, founder of Zelda Wisdom, Inc.; Svetlana Kim, entrepreneur and best-selling author; Kay Koplovitz, Founder of USA Network; Patricia Lizarraga, managing partner of Hypatia Capital Group; Nell Merlino, Chair, Personal Data Independence Trust; Jeanne Sullivan, a founding principal of StarVest; award-winning author Gail Sheehy; Terrie Williams, an inspirational speaker and writer; and Teresa Younger, CEO of Ms. Foundation.

A panel discussion featuring many of the honorees will follow opening remarks by Latifa Lyles, Director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor. Lisa Stark, Al Jazeera America correspondent, formerly with ABC News, will moderate.

Posted by Pat Lewis at 11:31 AM

Monday May 04, 2015

When Lying Can Be Good for Your Heart

Did you know that lying about your heart symptoms could save your life? It’s called the “Yentl syndrome” and it was coined in 1991 by then-NIH Director Dr. Bernadine Healy. It describes how women had to misrepresent their symptoms to get the same life-saving heart treatment as men. 

Turns out that the syndrome still exists. Men’s heart health is improving, but women in the U.S. are dying from heart disease at an alarming rate. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women, killing more women each year than all of the cancers combined.

And the reasons are gender-based: misinformation, misdiagnosis, and mistreatment. A 2014 survey shows that an alarming 45 percent of women ages 25-60 don’t know heart disease is their number one killer. Some doctors are unversed with the different symptoms women experience, such as the nausea, backache, jaw pain, extreme fatigue or shortness of breath that are women’s signs of heart attack, rather than the crushing chest pain that men first experience. Treatment options are based on medical research conducted on men; only 24 percent of participants in all heart-related studies are women.

I had the pleasure this week to attend a dinner hosted by the heart of Washington, Esther Coopersmith, to honor Barbra Streisand and celebrate the Women’s Heart Alliance, which Streisand co-founded.  She spoke passionately about the Alliance’s awareness campaign, “Fight the Lady Killer.” The campaign builds on the research of organizations like the Society for Women’s Health Research which has consistently promoted research on the sex differences in disease and disorders. The “Fight the Lady Killer” campaign includes raising awareness among women and their doctors, more money for research, and investments in treatment geared toward women.

Heart disease is not just a health issue; it’s an economic one as well. The impact of heart disease poses a significant threat to women’s economic security. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2010, the total costs of cardiovascular diseases in the United States were estimated to be $444 billion. Treatment of these diseases accounts for about $1 of every $6 spent on health care in this country. With women still too often under-employed or underpaid, serious illness has a disproportionate impact on them, easily undermining their and their families’ finances. The national economy pays a double price: it overloads our health care system and takes valuable resources out of the workforce.

Next week, OWL will be releasing a report highlighting the economic contributions women entrepreneurs are making to our economy. It also examines the gender gap they face getting access to the $30 billion in venture capital invested each year. In 2013, women received a mere 7 percent of those funds.

I was struck by the similarities between the investment gender gap and the gender based barriers in diagnosing and treating heart disease. For one example, a number of male investors pride themselves in “knowing” what a successful entrepreneur looks like—a man. It turns out many doctors are convinced they “know” what a heart attack looks like—a guy clutching his chest.

The good news in the venture capital world is that pressure is mounting from inside and outside the industry to change. One of the factors was the front-page stories covering the trial over Ellen Pao’s accusation of gender discrimination against the VC firm where she worked. She lost, but many believe the conversations surrounding the case moved the needle.

“Fight the Lady Killer” is poised to have a similar impact on women’s heart disease. Barbra Streisand brings together that rare combination of dedication, resources and political intelligence—she makes it clear that, despite her personal politics, this must be a nonpartisan issue.

When Barbra Streisand uses her remarkable voice to talk about the absurdity of a singular approach to treating a disease that expresses vastly different symptoms in women than it does in men, to urge lawmakers to increase the National Institutes of Health budget dedicated to women’s heart health, to remind us that heart disease kills 1-in-3 women a year and that we can and must act, people listen—and act.

As we prepare to celebrate “Mothering Sunday,” remembering those women who have nurtured us along our path, one way to honor them is to make sure they avoid—or survive—heart disease. #GetHeartChecked Read the full article.

Posted by Brittany Reid at 12:21 PM

Monday April 20, 2015

Briefing May 6 on Our Women Mean Business: Encore Careers After 40

Did you know that women entrepreneurs—armed with the right resources—are poised to create millions of new jobs?

That’s why OWL is launching a campaign to raise the level of venture capital investment in women from 7% to 20% by 2020.

Learn more about this and our first-ever Hall of Notables on May 6 at the National Press Club when OWL releases its 2015 Mother’s Day Report, “Our Women Mean Business: Encore Careers After 40.”

Join us for this thought-provoking program, where you’ll hear from:

Latifa Lyles, Director of the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau and many of our Hall of Notable Honorees, women who embody the spirit of encore entrepreneurism—the ability to reinvent oneself, to continually seek out new opportunities, and to give back to communities:  Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, the first African American female combat pilot, who now runs a successful consulting business; Carol Gardner, founder of Zelda Wisdom, Inc.; Svetlana Kim, entrepreneur and best-selling author; Kay Koplovitz,founder of USA Network; Patricia Lizarraga, managing partner of Hypatia Capital Group; Nell Merlino, creator of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence; Jeanne Sullivan, a founding principal of StarVest, who was recently cited by Forbes magazine as one of the “Women Changing the World”; Gail Sheehy, award-winning author; Terrie Williams, inspirational speaker; and Teresa Younger, CEO of Ms. Foundation.*

Our moderator is Lisa Stark, Al Jazeera America correspondent, formerly with ABC News.

Seating is limited, so please RSVP to info@owl-national for OWL’s May 6 briefing, 2:30-4:00 p.m., at the National Press Club in D.C. updated 4.28.15

Posted by Pat Lewis at 11:56 AM

Friday April 17, 2015

Syncing medications to increase adherence

More than 10,000 pharmacies across the nation are embracing a new service that helps patients better manage their medications by coordinating, or “synchronizing,” prescription refills. The goal is to improve medication adherence outcomes.

Virginia Commonwealth University research found that the average patient skips nearly five refills of chronic medications over the course of 12 months; the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) reports that one-third of patients who take regular medications miss doses because they run out before refilling their prescription.

The new service is called Appointment Based Model (ABM). In ABM, also known as “med sync,” pharmacists synchronize chronic prescription refills so that they all come due on the same day each month.  The program eliminates the need to call in multiple prescription refills, reduces the number of trips to the pharmacy and provides an opportunity for patients to meet one-on-one with their pharmacist on a monthly basis to discuss their medications.

“There are many factors that keep patients from adhering strictly to their medication regimen,” says Tim Weippert, Executive Vice President of Thrifty White Pharmacy.  “Pharmacists are actively working with their patients to simplify the prescription refill process and thus improve medication adherence that is so critical to maintaining good health, resulting in healthier outcomes for their patients.”

More information is available at the APhA Foundation, including a zip code locator to find nearby pharmacies offering the service.

Posted by Pat Lewis at 01:37 PM

Monday March 23, 2015

Good Health:  A Personal and Social Responsibility

Guest post by Bonnie S. Muheim, a health care consultant and freelance writer based in Washington, DC. 

One hundred years ago, people rarely saw doctors when they were ill.  Available medicines often did not do much to alleviate infection and disease, and treatments to reduce pain and suffering were few.  Life spans reflected these limitations.

Fast forward to today.  We have a broad network of medical specialists and subspecialists who deal with the entire spectrum of medical conditions, illnesses and diseases.  Scientific research has given us multiple categories of medicines and, within each category, numerous medications that can moderate, arrest and often cure illness and disease.  Happily, our life spans reflect the evolution of knowledge and the development of innovative and effective medicines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are witnessing an unprecedented growth of older adults and, by 2050, there will be double the number of people age 65 or older in the United States that we had in 2010.  The growth can be attributed to baby boomers reaching senior status and the fact that Americans are simply living longer.  Where once our ancestors got sick and perished, nowadays our serious illnesses often can be managed with proper prevention, diagnosis and treatment.  Many acute or deadly illnesses, such as AIDS and some cancers, have become chronic illnesses.  Other potentially fatal conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, are now manageable with medication and close medical supervision.

The good news, too, is that while older Americans are living longer, they also are leading more independent, productive, and healthier lives.  Many are putting off their retirement and a new focus on healthy living is encouraging seniors to remain active and engaged in their families, jobs and community.

Which leads us to the role those of us with mid- to senior status can take to keep it all going.  Frankly, the older we get, the less we can afford to let things go.  I am not just referring to our personal health, wrinkles and inevitable weight redistribution.  We also have a social responsibility to keep ourselves in good shape.  Doing so benefits the aggregate as well as ourselves, and staying healthy minimizes the burden on our health care system, which we all know too well faces difficult challenges.  The ounce of prevention we take now can be a pound of cure later – and also a saving of uncounted dollars to our individual and health system’s pocketbooks.

So, what can we do to make the most of our lives and maintain a healthy lifestyle?  Absolutely stay active.  For sure mind your diet and nutrition.  Don’t even think putting off screenings and vaccines that potentially could save your life.  Empower yourself with knowledge by asking the right questions and taking advantage of the resources available to you.  To all of that I would add:  Seek proper treatment for what ails you and follow the prescribed course of action, particularly when it comes to medications.  Learn as much as you can about your condition and meds, take your meds as prescribed and work with your physician to find the best treatment for YOU, not the one based on cost or convenience.

One hundred years ago our parents and grandparents didn’t have nearly the choices we have today.  But with those choices comes responsibility.  Make good informed decisions in managing your health.  You’ll be glad you did – and so will your own children and grandchildren.

Here are a couple of resources that might be helpful in healthy aging:

The Value of Medicines for Healthy Aging

The Value of Drug Adherence

Healthy Aging/Longevity, National Institute on Aging

Healthy Eating for Older Adults, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Posted by Pat Lewis at 09:42 AM

Friday February 27, 2015

February Newsletter Released

This month’s newsletter includes a Huffington Post article by OWL Executive Director Bobbie Brinegar entitled, ‘Another Social Security Red Herring?’.

Check out the full observer here.

Posted by Brittany Reid at 11:04 AM

Monday February 09, 2015

Can we be adults about this?

There’s a high price to pay for political posturing: our public health. As the debate around the anti-vaccination movement rages on, it is important to bear in mind that the vast majority of Americans, across party lines, believe that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. According to the nation’s leading researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, Americans are making the right choice when they stay up to date with their vaccinations.

Unfortunately, despite the effectiveness of potentially life-saving preventive services, such as screenings and vaccinations, in 2013 only 25% of adults ages 50 to 64 and fewer than 50% of adults age 65 years or older were up to date. Politicians are making a mostly indisputable choice into a partisan hot potato about the reach of government and personal freedoms. By creating a debate around vaccinations politicians are generating more skepticism from adults, particularly adult women, who are making important decisions about not only their child’s vaccinations, but their own. According to one study, the largest contributing factor to uncertainty about vaccinations was a “conspiratorial mindset”. The political is detracting from the practical and undermining a proven prevention strategy: adult vaccinations.

For example, did you know that an average of 30,000 people die each year from vaccine-preventable illnesses? And that 95 percent of those who die are adults? Each year, an average of 226,000 people is hospitalized due to influenza and between 3,000 and 49,000 people die of influenza and its complications; the majority are adults.

Survey after survey indicate that adults are not getting the vaccinations they need. The 2010 Adult Immunization report found millions of American adults go without routine and recommended vaccinations each year, which leads to an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 preventable deaths, thousands of preventable illnesses, and $10 billion in avoidable health care costs annually.

As the recent Disneyland measles outbreak has demonstrated, adults aren’t the only ones who need the protection. While many of the illnesses adults contract aren’t deadly for them, they can be fatal, and easy to pass on, to their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. It is critical that those in close proximity to infants be up to date on their vaccinations, especially since babies under a year old are too young to be immunized, making them extremely vulnerable. Take whooping cough: this respiratory infection causes a persistent cough in adults, yet it can be fatal for infants. No parent or grandparent ever wants to be responsible for infecting a child.

But if no one wants to put a child at risk, and the majority of Americans don’t believe in a government vaccination conspiracy theory, then why are adult vaccination rates still so low?

There are plenty of barriers, starting with primary care physicians. A 2012 survey found that just 29% of general internists and 32% of family physicians assessed their patients’ vaccination status at every visit. Only 8% of general internists and 36% of family physicians said they used immunization information systems.

Almost all physicians said they assessed the need for and stocked seasonal influenza, pneumococcal, tetanus and diphtheria, and tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccines. Only 31% of family physicians and 20% of general internists reported stocking all 11 adult vaccines that were recommended for routine use in 2012.

A study released last year from the University of Colorado School of Medicine confirmed a failure of health care providers to assess the vaccination needs of their patients and an insufficient stock of vaccines. It also identified inadequate insurance reimbursement, record-keeping challenges, and high costs to smaller practices and general internists who see more Medicare Part D patients. “As the population ages this could easily grow into a more serious public health issue,” said Dr. Laura Hurley, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the CU School of Medicine.

Then there’s the social contract. Unlike children’s vaccinations, which are rigorously policed by schools, summer camps, youth sports leagues and more, adults are on their own. And while there is plenty of material available, it requires taking the time to find out what we need to know: What vaccination do I need? What about the other members of my household? Will my insurance cover them? If not, are there other resources available? Are there side effects that might make it tough to do my job? The burden of finding the answers to all these questions falls primarily on women, who make close to 85 percent of all household health-related decisions.

We do not yet know how to address all of the medical barriers or gaps in education surrounding vaccinations. What we do know is that there’s empirical data demonstrating that adult vaccinations are a proven prevention strategy. What we do know is that the current inflammatory political climate is not constructive. What we do know is that we are all in this together. If we decide to, we know that, working together, we can prevent the preventable.

Read the original article on Huffington Post

Posted by Bobbie Brinegar at 10:35 AM

Friday January 23, 2015

OWL ED Published in Huffington Post Article

OWL Executive Director Bobbie Brinegar was published in a Huffington Post article entitled, “Our Women Mean Business: Encore Careers After 40”. The article lays out the success of female entrepreneurs, highlights the difficulties women face in accessing venture capital funding, and introduces OWL’s initiative to help women gain the access they need to revolutionize the American economy. Full content of the article is below.

At age 52, recently divorced, depressed and deeply in debt, Carol Gardner received advice from her attorney to “get a therapist or get a dog.” Choosing the latter, she leveraged her background as an advertising creative director and started a greeting card company in her living room with her new English bulldog, Zelda. Carol’s entrepreneurial spirit, along with Zelda’s good looks, helped her create what is now an international, multimillion-dollar licensing business, Zelda Wisdom, Inc., that includes calendars, books, greeting cards and more.

Gardner’s story represents a growing trend: “accelerating female entrepreneurship could have the same positive effect on the U.S. economy that the large-scale entry of women into the labor force had during the 20th century.” In particular, encore entrepreneurs may just be the key to American economic growth.

Did you know that:

• Between 1997 and 2014, the number of women-owned firms grew at 1½ times the national average, and that revenue and employment growth among women-owned firms tops that of all other firms—except the largest, publicly traded corporations?
•People over 55 are almost twice as likely to found successful companies as those between ages 20-34?
•Having high-ranking women on the team increases the likelihood of success?
•Venture capitalists who back women do better than those who don’t?

With statistics like these, you would think venture capitalists would be tripping over themselves to invest in women-led enterprises.

Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult for women to score venture capital (VC) funding than their proven success would make it seem. What people are also starting to recognize- the obstacles are often structural and gender-biased. This is a shift; until recently, we would have been much more likely to read articles focused on why it’s women’s fault, for their failure to be assertive, or to propose good ideas. Consider these sobering statistics:

•Women’s enterprises received only seven percent of venture capital funds in 2013.
•Women account for only 4.2 percent of the 542 partner-level positions at the 92 largest VC firms.
•Research has confirmed that this is not because of the lack of women-led enterprises but instead so-called ‘pattern recognition,’ a term still embraced by many in the VC community.
•A recent Harvard Business School study found that regular people and experienced angel investors were more likely to be swayed by a man’s business pitch, especially an attractive man’s, compared with the exact same pitch delivered by a woman.

The good news is that people are beginning to acknowledge that this is a very real problem, and that it’s costing all of us a lot of money. The National Venture Capital Association has established a diversity task force, and there are a number of writers and entrepreneurs who speak out about the irrational biases driving poor business decisions. It is noteworthy that much of the coverage is taking place on the pages of business publications like Forbes, Fortune and Entrepreneur Magazine. They have seen the reports, like one from the Economist, concluding that, if women entrepreneurs were financed at the same rate as their male counterparts, they could create 6 million jobs in 5 years. Reports like the recent one from the Kauffman Foundation argue that “the future of American growth is in the hands of women.”

OWL- The Voice of Women 40+ is tackling this critical issue through a new initiative, Our Women Mean Business: Encore Careers After 40. One aspect of the initiative is a campaign to increase women’s access to venture capital. The goal is to raise the level of venture capital investment in women from seven percent to 20 percent by 2020.

Barbara Corcoran, who sits on a panel of successful venture capitalists hearing pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs on ABC’s Shark Tank, was asked by Senator Cardin during her testimony for a hearing on women in entrepreneurship whether capital or technical assistance was more important. The cunning entrepreneur answered, “Capital. Entrepreneurs are just hard-headed enough to figure the rest out on their own.”

It is high time we break down the barriers inhibiting female entrepreneurs from accessing capital, so that women are equipped to succeed in their business ventures, and revolutionize the U.S. economy in the process.

Posted by Brittany Reid at 01:19 PM

Wednesday January 21, 2015

The secret to healthy aging

Guest post by Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging and founder of the active-aging industry in North America. Milner is also a leading authority on the health and well-being of the older adult. For the past six years, the World Economic Forum has invited him to serve on its Network of Global Agenda Councils, recognizing him as one of “the most innovative and influential minds” in the world on aging-related topics.

“How do we live a long and healthy life?” That’s the question I posed 12 years ago to Dr. Richard Carmona, then the Surgeon General of the United States. His answer? “Exercise. Eat right. Get plenty of sleep. And avoid alcohol and tobacco.” That was it! There I was talking to America’s top doctor, and he simply confirmed what I already knew.

Once I reflected on Dr. Carmona’s answer, I realized he had taught me an invaluable lesson. I learned that most of us know what we need to do to age well; we just don’t do it. Too often we fail to make the choices that can change our lives for the better—not only for today, but also for the years to come.

Fast-forward to my conversation a few weeks ago with another important figure—my 103-year-old grandmother—whom I asked another key question: “To what do you attribute your longevity?” Granny does not spend hundreds of dollars per month on anti-aging creams or potions, nor does she change her eating habits to match this month’s celebrity diet. She told me she does one thing really well. What is it? As a resilient woman, she has learned to manage change. From the loss of her husband as well as friends and savings, to shifts in her health, she has chosen to stay positive and engage fully with life.

While far from exciting, the advice offered by Dr. Carmona and my grandmother can alter lives.

Think how life throws changes at us. Some changes are sudden and irreversible, and we can only choose how to respond to them. Others happen slowly, and we can address them proactively. For example, sedentary women lose close to 50% of their strength between 35 and 75 years of age. By age 80, 46% of these women will struggle to lift a mere 10 pounds. Imagine how this one change could affect your quality of life. A basic strength-building program twice a week, however, would delay and offset much of this strength loss, enabling you to keep doing the things you want to do.

Following the basics is the only secret to well-being and longevity. Exercise. Eat right. Get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. And manage the changes in your life. A positive attitude will not only help you live longer, but also live well.

Contact the author of this post at colinmilner@icaa,cc

Posted by Pat Lewis at 09:39 AM

Monday December 29, 2014

Because you’re the wind beneath OWL’s wings

Your support is what keeps us soaring. Thanks for a wonderful year!

Posted by Bobbie Brinegar at 02:56 PM

Wednesday December 17, 2014

You are still one of our favorite things

This is a wonderful time of year to wander the streets of the nation’s capital, taking in the holiday sights, a few of which I’m sharing here as part of OWL’s season’s greetings.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I am still moved by this city’s overwhelming sense of history.

It’s disheartening that too many people associate Washington D.C. with nothing but discord and dysfunction.  While it’s true that we have no shortage of either, the city is much more than that. We need only to consider our past to be reminded of the many times we’ve worked through our differences.

So OWL’s hope is that we all can greet the coming year with open minds and a willingness to talk with people instead of at them. Together, imagine all the good we can do.

Warmest holiday wishes from the OWL National Team!

Posted by Bobbie Brinegar at 10:46 AM

Tuesday December 09, 2014

Wall Street Journal Small Business Podcast Features OWL Venture Capital Access Campaign

The podcast (story starts at 6:20) highlights the finding from the Kauffman Foundation’s latest report—featured in the latest OWL Observer—that “accelerating female entrepreneurship could have the same positive effect on the U.S. economy that the large-scale entry of women into the labor force had during the 20th century.”

The report, based on a survey of nearly 350 female tech start-up leaders, investigated what contributes to the low percentage of women running high-growth firms. Among the challenges women cited: a tougher time raising capital.

The podcast quotes from the Observer article that “Women’s access to capital, particularly venture capital, is central to OWL’s latest campaign, Our Women Mean Business. Kicking off in 2015, the initiative will educate investors, promote key resources critical to women starting or expanding their own businesses, and highlight leaders in the field.”

Posted by Pat Lewis at 01:36 PM

Tuesday November 25, 2014

Beware Potential Pitfalls Enrolling in Medicare Part B!

Guest post from Mitchell Clark and Stacy Sanders, Medicare Rights Center

It is often reported that 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare every day. What is less well known, and often times misunderstood, are the rules concerning how to enroll in Medicare. While most people who become eligible for Medicare are automatically enrolled, others have to make a proactive choice to enroll in one or multiple parts of the program.

A recent analysis of call data from the Medicare Rights Center’s national helpline found that many older adults struggle to understand Medicare enrollment periods, coordination of benefits rules and the penalties associated with delayed enrollment. In 2013, Medicare Rights fielded more than 15,000 questions on its helpline, and the second most common call concerned enrollment (22 percent).

At age 65, retirees already collecting Social Security retirement benefits are automatically enrolled in Part A and Part B. The same is true for individuals ages 64 and younger who are collecting Social Security disability benefits following a 24-month waiting period. For those not collecting Social Security benefits, it is necessary to actively enroll in Medicare, taking into consideration specific enrollment periods and existing coverage. If this transition is mismanaged, individuals new to Medicare may face a lifetime of late enrollment penalties, higher health care costs, gaps in coverage and disruptions in care continuity.

Take Mr. R, for example.  At 55 he retired from his job and his former employer provided him with retiree medical coverage. He did not start receiving Social Security retirement benefits when he turned 65 and became eligible for Medicare; therefore, he had to actively enroll in Medicare during his Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) when he turned 65. During his IEP, he enrolled in Medicare Part A, but declined Part B because he believed he would have adequate medical insurance under his retiree plan. What he did not know was that when he turned 65 and became eligible for Medicare, his retiree coverage became secondary to Medicare. While current employer-sponsored health insurance can act as primary or secondary to Medicare, retiree insurance always pays secondary to Medicare.

When Mr. R became eligible for Medicare, his retiree plan stopped paying primary for outpatient services, essentially operating as though he had no insurance at all. During this time, he incurred at least $10,000 in medical expenses from two different health incidents. Only after these medical bills for unpaid expenses and denials from his retiree insurance started arriving did he realize that something was wrong. But he was in a bind. Having missed his IEP, he had to wait for the General Enrollment Period (GEP) to enroll in Part B. The GEP lasts from January through March of each year, with coverage beginning July 1st of the year a person enrolls. In the end, Mr. R enrolled in Part B during the 2014 GEP—more than a year after he first became eligible for Part B—with his coverage taking effect in July, seven months later.

Fixing the Fragmented Medicare Enrollment System

To ease the transition to Medicare, Medicare Rights’ analysis urges Congress, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Social Security Administration to prioritize key policy changes, including: • Enhancing notification and education for people new-to-Medicare. • Reforming the Medicare enrollment periods. • Strengthening avenues for relief, giving greater opportunity for retroactive enrollment and the elimination of premium penalties. • Conducting more research on how many people are affected by Medicare enrollment challenges and how many will be potentially affected in the future.

As the questions to the Medicare Rights Center’s helpline demonstrate, despite the diversity of circumstances among newly eligible Medicare beneficiaries, the transition traps they fall into are very much the same. These include difficulties understanding how Medicare coordinates with other types of insurance, navigating enrollment periods, and affording lifetime premium penalties. Much can be, and should be, accomplished to ensure seamless Medicare transitions and secure the health and financial stability of today’s and future generations of retirees and people with disabilities.

Posted by Pat Lewis at 11:10 AM

Wednesday November 12, 2014

OWL Letter on Social Security Published in Washington Post

“I’m surprised the Nov. 2 Business article detailing how readers would fix Social Security didn’t include information from the recent in-depth survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI). That report, which The Post did mention upon its release [“GOP pivots on Social Security,” news, Oct. 25], found that large majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree on ways to strengthen Social Security — without reducing benefits or raising the retirement age.

The support The Post found among readers for raising the earnings cap was even stronger in the NASI survey, with 70 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats agreeing that top wage earners could pay more.

People don’t want to ignore what they are constantly being told is a looming crisis, but when they learn about the range of options available, that alarm drops considerably. The only way we are going to have a fact-based discussion on Social Security is by presenting the facts. So cheers to The Post for including the fact that if wages had continued to rise as predicted in 1983, Social Security would be in much better shape — and more earnings would be subject to Social Security taxes. But jeers for telling only part of the story.” Read the letter online.

Posted by Pat Lewis at 02:05 PM

Monday November 10, 2014

If MythBusters did an episode on Social Security, they might start here

• Did you know that half of the projected Social Security shortfall has been caused by lousy wage growth?
• That if our wages had kept pace with the projections made in 1983, the earnings cap for Social Security taxes would be about 27 percent higher than it is?
• Or that the baby boomers didn’t sneak up on us?

One of the most ignored factors in the predicted 2033 Social Security shortfall has been slow and unequal wage gains.

As far back as 1983, analysts could foresee that the baby boomer’s retirement would mean fewer workers paying taxes compared to retirees receiving benefits. Despite what many alarmists imply, we saw the boomers coming. After all, the last ones were born in 1964.
What the experts couldn’t predict was the significant slowdown in the average wage index. That’s the index used to adjust the cap on Social Security earnings.

They anticipated that wages would continue to rise, since in the five years leading up to 1983, the average annual wage increase was 8.3 percent. In the five years leading up to 2014? A mere 1.7 percent.  Rising wages means a rising cap, which means more money in the Trust Fund.

Raising the cap is also one of the most popular options for ensuring a strong Social Security Trust Fund; the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI)’s recent survey found that 71 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats agree top earners could pay more. Right now Social Security taxes are only paid on the first $117,000 of income.

Women need to pay particular attention to Social Security. As the Institute for Women’s Policy Research points out, the program is a mainstay for women.  Women are more likely to rely on Social Security because they have fewer alternative sources of income, they often outlive their husbands, and they’re more likely to be left to raise their children when their husbands die or become disabled.

So as the debate over ‘how to save’ Social Security heats back up, let’s keep reminding our policymakers that the boomers didn’t cause this – and that the cap is low because so many Americans’ wages have stagnated. Myths can be dangerous things – and even without a television show, we have to do what we can to bust them.


Posted by Pat Lewis at 02:19 PM
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