Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Vote for Lower Prescription Drug Prices

Rising prescription drug prices continue to be a major concern for both patients and health insurers, including those who deal with Medicare.  According to AARP, the average retail price for prescription drugs taken to treat chronic conditions has risen to approximately $13,000 a year.  How much of that is paid by the patient depends on their medical insurance or Medicare drug plan.

When the Kaiser Family Foundation polled patients about their medical priorities, lower prescription drug prices were at the top of the list.  This is understandable, since Americans pay the highest drug prices in the world and, according to AARP, the prices are increasing at a rate 10 times faster than inflation.

The key to changing this situation is electing the right people both to the Senate and the House of Representatives.  It is extremely important that we vote for candidates, regardless of political party, who will stand up to the drug industry.  Organizations like the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare endorse candidates from both major political parties when they show they are willing to work towards the goal of passing laws which will strengthen and improve both Social Security and Medicare.  Lowering prescription drug prices is an important key to saving Medicare.

What do we need to ask candidates when we attend town halls and candidate forums?

Shrinking the Medicare Drug Plan Doughnut Hole

The good news is that many current members of BOTH parties in Congress have shown a willingness to take some steps towards protecting senior citizens from rising drug prices.  There is now a bi-partisan agreement under consideration to close the doughnut hole in 2019 for brand-name drugs and to close the doughnut hole in 2020 for generic drugs.  However, the pharmaceutical industry has lobbied against this deal, so it is important to know how the candidates in your area stand on this issue.  You may want to also ask if they take donations from pharmaceutical companies, because that could influence their votes and cause them to side with their donors rather than patients.

Negotiating Medicare Drug Prices

Currently, federal law does not allow Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers for lower drug prices, despite the fact that the federal government is the largest purchaser of drugs in the United States.  Many experts believe changing this rule would make a significant difference in lowering drug prices and only Congress can make this change.  Ask candidates in your area if they support allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.

Allowing the Safe Importation of Prescription Drugs

Americans are often warned about the dangers of importing drugs from online pharmacies in foreign countries, and that danger has been covered in the past on this blog.  Unregulated orders from unknown foreign sources can be a serious concern, since buyers may not know if they are ordering from a legitimate source or if the drugs they are receiving are actually what they believe them to be.  However, the federal government could allow patients to safely order drugs from authorized foreign suppliers in places such as Canada and the European Union, and this could save some patients a significant amount of money.  If this interests you, ask your candidates where they stand on this issue.

Expanded Access to Generics

There is currently a proposed bill known as the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act (CREATES) which would prohibit pharmaceutical companies from blocking the development of lower cost generic drugs.  Passing this bill would allow the companies which make generic drugs to force pharmaceutical companies to give them the necessary samples so they can make generic equivalents.  Ask the candidates whether or not they support this legislation.

Ban Pharmacy Gag Orders

Did you know that your local pharmacist is banned from telling you that, in some cases, you could get a drug cheaper by purchasing it without using your insurance?  AARP has introduced two bills to the Senate which would ban these gag orders.  We need to elect Senators and Representatives who will support these bills.  Ask your local candidates how they feel about these bills.

Increased Drug Price Transparency

Drug prices have been increasing at rates which are much higher than the overall rate of inflation.  AARP is calling on the government to insist that drug companies reveal how much they spend on research and development compared to the amount spent on advertising, and explain how they price their drugs.  This transparency could help prevent huge arbitrary price increases, especially when large amounts of money are going towards advertising rather than the development of new drugs.

Vote for Supportive State Legislators, Too

In addition to having Senators and U.S. Representatives who will vote to make the above changes, states governments can also do a great deal on their own to help patients who are burdened by high drug prices.  Already, 25 states have passed legislation to make pharmacy gag orders illegal.  California requires pharmaceutical companies to give two weeks notice before making any significant increase in the price of a drug.  In Nevada, diabetes drug prices cannot be raised without a detailed explanation.  Ask the candidates for your state legislature what they can do to protect patients from sky-rocketing drug prices in your state.

Vote to Save Medicare

In addition to voting for candidates who support lower prescription drug prices, it is important to know how they stand on protecting the solvency of Medicare for the remainder of your life, as well as for future generations.  The Medicare Trust Fund could fall short as early as 2026, which will create serious problems for people dependent on this healthcare insurance program, possibly shifting more costs to consumers unless changes are made. If you feel you cannot afford to spend significantly more on your medical care, ask the Congressional candidates in your district specific questions about how they would save Medicare. Someday, your life and financial security could depend on it.

Vote to Save Social Security

Closely related to saving Medicare is the need to also save Social Security.  The vast majority of retirees are dependent on Social Security for all or most of their post-retirement income. Unfortunately, the Social Security Trust Fund is expected to fall short in 2034, if nothing is done to replenish it.  That could cause Social Security benefits to fall by approximately 20 percent.  Since few, if any, people believe they can easily absorb a 20 percent decrease in their Social Security benefits, it is essential that solutions be found for replenishing the trust fund.  Next Wednesday, I will post a more detailed article on how to permanently preserve Social Security, not just for today's retirees but those in the future, as well.

Ask Candidates About Other Issues of Importance to Retirees

If you attend a candidate forum or town hall meeting, which I hope you will, other questions you will want to ask the candidates about Medicare are:

* Do you want to expand Medicaid or make it more difficult to qualify for it?
* Do you want to protect people with pre-existing conditions from losing their insurance?
* Do you believe in the "age tax" which is when consumers pay higher insurance rates based on their age?

In addition, you may want to ask them about other retirement questions such as:

* Do you believe in improving automatic retirement savings programs for people who do not have a 401(k) available to them through their jobs?
* How do you feel about taxation of retirement income and Social Security?
* What do you think should be done to strengthen pension funds?
* What can be done to protect senior citizens from being victims of fraud and scams? 

Several of the above issues, especially those regarding prescription drug prices, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, will probably be dealt with simultaneously in one package deal.  As a result, it is important to ask the candidates of both parties in your area how they plan to deal with these problems.  The more you know, the easier it will be to make an informed decision when you vote.

Rather than voting based on a political party, vote in a way which will protect the programs which you will depend on during your retirement.  In other words, vote for your self-interest and to protect senior citizens in your family. That is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate reason to decide how you will vote, rather than automatically voting for one party or the other.  In addition, follow up with your Senators and representatives and make sure they work towards keeping their promises.

You can get more information about the issues, register to vote, or apply for an absentee ballot at:

You can also learn more about important issues at:,, and

Learn more about preserving Social Security and Medicare at: 

If you would like more information about Medicare, Social Security, common medical problems as you age, financial planning, where to retire, travel and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Happiness Hormones Improve Your Mood

Did you know there are simple ways you can improve your mood and enjoy your life more, without the use of medications?  According to WebMD and other websites, people can learn to release their own happiness hormones, such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.  The result of following these suggestions can be life changing and the small amount of effort involved is well worth it.

If you feel depressed, lonely or sad for little or no reason, which is common for millions of senior citizens, you may want to talk to your personal physician or therapist and follow their recommendations.  In addition, and with their approval, you may also want to try some of the activities below to naturally boost your happiness hormones.  

Cuddle Up!

Whenever you cuddle with someone you care about, including your cat or dog, your brain releases oxytocin, which is known as the love hormone.  It lowers your stress and helps you feel close to your loved ones.  If cuddling with your spouse or lover leads to sexual intimacy, the release of happiness hormones may be even greater.

Laugh and Smile Often

Whether it is a corny joke or a funny movie which causes you to laugh out loud, the act will cause you to release endorphins.  Not only do endorphins lift your spirits, but they also protect you from illnesses and ease pain. Don't feel like laughing?  Even smiling can produce a positive effect on your mood.  There has even been some research indicating that smiling can help you fall asleep more easily.  So, whether you feel like it or not, smile!


Whether you like to run, walk, go for a swim or ride your bike, exercise is another way to stimulate your body to release those wonderful endorphins.  This also explains what it means for someone to get a runner's high.  In addition, there is some evidence that exercising with others in a group or class can boost your endorphins even more.  Finally, as you will see below, getting some of that exercise outside will stimulate your production of happiness hormones even more.

Spend a Little Time in the Sun

Just 15 or 20 minutes of sunshine will allow your skin to absorb enough UV rays to promote your production of both Vitamin D and serotonin.  A lack of serotonin can cause increased feelings of loneliness and depression, so anything you can do to increase your level of this important hormone can help you feel happier and less lonely.  Do not leave your skin exposed longer than 20 minutes, however, because too much sun can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

Get a Massage

During a nice, relaxing massage, your body will increase its production of both serotonin and dopamine.  It will also decrease the production of the unhealthy stress hormone cortisol.  As a result, a massage will temporarily reduce your depression, lower your stress, decrease your pain and help you sleep.  What could be nicer? 

If you cannot afford a massage at an expensive spa, see if there are any massage schools in your community.  My husband and I sometimes go to a massage school about a 30 minute drive from our home for 50-minute massages which only cost $25.  Another option is to take turns with your spouse giving and receiving massages.

Enjoy a Little Dark Chocolate

Eating a little dark chocolate is a delicious way to increase your endorphin levels.  However, you do not want to overdo it. Adding weight might lower your self-esteem, increase your stress and undo the benefits.

Sniff Vanilla or Lavender

Lavender is known to relax you and help you sleep.  Vanilla may be an aphrodisiac to some men, promoting feelings of love and connection.  Either one can bring you pleasure, so put a few drops of lavender essential oil or vanilla on your pillow case to boost your endorphins as you sleep. 

Try Ginseng - Cautiously

Ginseng is believed to have several positive effects on people, including controlling your blood sugar, aiding in weight loss, inhibiting the release of harmful stress hormones and supporting the organs which produce endorphins. This common herb may be helpful in boosting your mood, but you might want to discuss it first with a doctor, since it could conflict with medications you are taking.

Try Positive Thinking

At first, you may feel it is hopeless to change the way you think.  However, by engaging in practices such as meditation, yoga, repeating affirmations or making a gratitude list, you may gradually learn to push aside negative thoughts and develop a more positive outlook.  The more you practice these skills, the more you may naturally boost your endorphins.

With all these different options for improving your mood and decreasing your feelings of loneliness and depression, there is no reason to just give in to your sadness.  Talk to your doctor or therapist, deal with any medical issues you may have, join a support group and try the suggestions above.  You absolutely CAN turn your life around.

If you are interested in learning more about common medical issues, where to retire, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare or more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Health Apps and Websites for Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are typically more tech savvy than previous generations of retirees, although some older senior citizens are also beginning to be comfortable using their smart phones and computers.  Regardless of your age, technology now makes it possible to have easy access to the most current information on health, safety, fitness and disease information.

Whether you want to keep track of your diabetes, lose weight, get more exercise, investigate a medical diagnosis or learn to live life to the fullest, it can be very helpful to turn to our phones, tablets and computers for information and support.  Below is a list of some of the apps and websites which a large number of people, including myself, have found to be most useful.  Please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section so readers can discover even more useful resources.

Websites to Improve Your Health - Whenever a friend or family member is diagnosed with an illness, many of us turn to WebMD to learn more about the condition and possible treatments.  In addition, I subscribe to their free daily email which always includes interesting information about a variety of health related topics.  I learn something new nearly every day and the information is completely free! - If you or someone in your family has an alcoholism or addiction problem, Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center have put together a helpful, informative, free website.  You can also sign up to receive an email with their "Thought For The Day," which is a brief daily excerpt from a variety of books dealing with addiction issues.  Very few behaviors can damage your health more than alcoholism or an addiction problem, including addiction to a prescription medication.  Addictions and alcoholism also destroy careers, relationships and marriages, so you want to deal with them as soon as possible. - The Blue Zones are areas around the world where people routinely live active, productive, healthy lives well into their 90s and even after the age of 100.  What is interesting about the Blue Zones is that the people who live long lives in these communities appear to benefit more from their healthy lifestyles than from having good genes.  Best of all, people do not need to live in remote corners of the world in order to benefit from the Blue Zone lifestyle.  In fact, one of the Blue Zones is in a suburb on the inland side of smoggy, crowded Los Angeles, California. Check out the Blue Zones website and sign up to have their free weekly newsletter emailed to you. You, too, can learn their tips for improving your health and adding years to your life, whether you live in a Blue Zone or not.

Health Apps for People of All Ages

In addition to the websites above, if you have a SmartPhone, there are a number of apps which will help you stay healthy.  Below is a list of some popular ones.

MyFitnessPal - This app is often used by people who are trying to lose weight.  It even has a barcode scanner so you can get detailed nutritional information about commercial food products before you buy them.  One aspect of the app which I particularly appreciate is that it lists far more than just the calorie count for a wide variety of food items.  The app also lists the amount of carbs, fat, protein, fiber, potassium and sodium.  Since my husband has kidney disease and we have to watch his sodium, potassium and protein intake carefully, this app has made it much easier to keep track of what he is eating.  Even if you are not trying to lose weight, this app can be helpful to anyone who needs to follow a special diet for their health.

Other dieting apps which will help you track what you eat include GoMeals (iPhone only), Lose it!, and Fooducate.

Fitness Buddy - Need some new exercise ideas?  This app contains over 1700 unique exercises and a system to track your workouts so you stay motivated.

Other fitness apps which will help you track your workouts and challenge yourself include Nike Training Club, Strava Run and Strava Cycling.

Blood Pressure Companion - This app is currently available only for the iPhone.  It helps you track your blood pressure, heart rate and weight. The newest iPhone is also capable of even more advanced heart monitoring.

Breathe2Relax - Do you have trouble relaxing?  This guided breathing app will help you manage your stress with diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

mySugr Diabetes - If you have diabetes, this app will make it easier for you to log your blood sugar levels, set your target blood glucose ranges, view your history and use graphs so you can quickly recognize when your numbers are out of their normal range.

Major News Source Apps - You may also want to add at least one news app to your smart phone, such as Google News, SmartNews or your favorite network affiliate like ABC or NBC news.  Most news sources will keep you informed about the recall of dangerous products, food poisoning outbreaks in your area, new treatments for diseases, and other health related topics.  In some cases, learning about a recall or food poisoning incident could be life-saving.

Try out some of the above websites and apps which are designed to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep you educated about health related topics.  Thanks to modern technology, you can always have these useful tools at your fingertips!

If you are interested in more information about how to maintain your health as you age, where to retire, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Retire in Portugal - Affordable Europe

Would you like to retire in Europe, but cannot afford to live in one of the more famous cities, such as London, Paris, Prague or Venice?  A country you may wish to consider is Portugal.  Retirement there is very affordable when compared to most locations in the United States.  In addition, with a Eurail Pass, it is easy to travel throughout the rest of Europe and see all those places you hoped to enjoy in retirement.

According to the website International Living, it is relatively easy for Americans to relocate to Portugal and the cost of living is more reasonable than most other European destinations.  Of course, anyone who seriously plans to retire in Europe should investigate their options thoroughly, beginning with an extended vacation in Portugal.  However, the information below will give you an idea if this is a place which could work out for you.

Portugal is Charming and Affordable

Portugal is one of the smaller countries in Europe.  It is only about the size of the state of Vermont and has a population of about 11 million people.  The vast majority of people in Portugal are Roman Catholic Christians.

The weather is generally beautiful, there are many courses where you can play golf, and it has a lengthy coast along the Atlantic Ocean.  Northern Portugal is mountainous and tends to be cooler and rainy; the southern part of the country consists of rolling plains and is warmer and drier.

Expatriates are most likely to be found in the areas of Portugal known as the Algarve, the Alentejo and the Silver Coast.  According to reports from "International Living," a variety of rental properties can be found in the $450 to $550 per month price range, rising to around $1,000 a month in the more popular areas of Lisbon.  International Living has reported that a couple can live in the countryside for about $1,750 a month, including their rent.  If they live in Lisbon, their monthly expenses will rise to about $2,250 a month.  Utilities cost about $80 a month.

Small condos and cottages can be purchased in the Alentejo region for $65,000 to $100,000.  However, experts highly recommend people rent for a year or more before purchasing property.  This will give you the opportunity to decide if you have moved to an area you enjoy.  When you do purchase a home, be sure you use a real estate agent and have a lawyer check the title and review the contract.

The country is beautiful and relaxed.  In the cities, expect to find charming roundabouts, statues, fountains, cobblestone streets, parks and outdoor cafes. Around the countryside there are a variety of castles and cathedrals.

Healthcare in Portugal

Good healthcare is available, particularly in the private hospitals.  New residents will need to obtain private health insurance.  Medicare from the United States cannot be used if you are a permanent resident of another country.  However, if you only live in Europe part of the year, you may want to maintain your Medicare policy in the United States so you can use it when you return to the states.

You can qualify for health insurance in Portugal if you have a job there and pay into their social security system.  If you are retired, you will need to purchase a private health insurance policy.  The U.S. Embassy advises that you obtain your insurance through a private Portuguese hospital or clinic.  One couple who described their experiences on the International Living website said they pay about $250 a month for the two of them to have health insurance.

Portuguese Visa Requirements

When you first visit Portugal, you do not need a special visa to enter the country.  You can stay up to 90 days without one.

Once you decide to move there permanently, you will need proof of private health insurance and enough funds to support yourself in Portugal.  Then you will be able to apply for a Type 1 Visa by submitting an application to the nearest Portuguese Consulate.  You cannot relocate permanently to Portugal or stay longer than 90 days until you have the visa.  If you want to work in Portugal, you will need a Permanent Residency Visa.  Foreigners can also set up a company in Portugal, if they are legal residents and have the necessary permits and capital.  This is another situation where it would be wise to consult with a lawyer and, possibly, a local accountant.

Once you are living in Portugal, you will want to open a local bank account.  The U.S. government will direct deposit your Social Security benefits into a European bank for you.

Portuguese Taxes

Portuguese income taxes depend on whether you are classified as a resident or non-resident.  Workers pay income taxes ranging from 14.5% to 48%, based on their total income from around the world.

Depending on your investments, you may also be required to pay a capital gains tax.  In addition, the country has a Value Added Tax on certain restaurant services and agricultural supplies.  Talk to a tax advisor or accountant to see how much of your income will go to cover your taxes, so you understand exactly how much of your assets will be available to pay for your living expenses.

Investigate, Investigate, Investigate

Whenever this website recommends a place to live overseas, we high recommend you check out the State Department website for any advisories or warnings regarding foreign countries.  In addition, I also recommend that you vacation in a place before you move there and, during your trip, you should consult a real estate agent, a lawyer and, possibly, a tax attorney so you can minimize any surprises.

You also need to be prepared for fluctuations in the value of the dollar against the currency of the country where you are moving.  As the value of your Social Security check rises and falls, you may find it easier or more difficult to cover your expenses.  You want to make sure you have allowed for a margin of error, so you are not forced to leave because you cannot afford to stay.

Finally, read everything you can before moving to country.  Expatriates have written about their lives in virtually every corner of the world and they often have helpful tips to make your transition easier.

If you are interested in learning more about where to retire abroad or in the United States, or financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, common medical problems and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles on a variety of topics.

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