FLARA Retiree Newsletter

Larry BradshawFLARA Retiree Newsletter

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The Florida Alliance for Retired Americans

America faces a crisis on three critical fronts: a public health pandemic, an economic free fall and long-standing structural racism.
As America’s labor movement, we must urgently address all three with precision and purpose. They cannot be fixed separately. America’s Five Economic Essentials must be combined with policing reforms and implemented in ways that recognize the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on workers of color.

This is why we are coming together nationwide as working people on June 17—to demand Congress pass the HEROES Act and address police reforms that are urgently needed.

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Elections Take Shape As Qualifying Ends
As Democrats hope to dent Republican majorities in both legislative chambers, the major parties will clash in 96 of 120 state House seats and 17 of 20 Senate contests, according to data posted by the Florida Division of Elections after the qualifying ended Friday at noon.

Candidates were required to file paperwork and fees by noon Friday for August primary and November general elections. As of Saturday morning, 322 candidates qualified for House seats and 65 others qualified to run for the Senate.

Just eleven incumbent Democrats, all House members, and Republican Rep. Brad Drake of Eucheeanna had no opposition.

Eight of 29 upcoming GOP House primaries feature incumbents. Republicans Mike Hill of Pensacola, Alex Andrade of Pensacola, Jay Trumbull of Panama City, Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville, Scott Plakon of Longwood, Thad Altman of Indialantic, Randy Fine of South Brevard County, and Daniel Perez of Miami will face challengers on Aug. 18.

All of the 12 incumbent senators up for reelection also are being challenged, and eight open seats in the upper chamber are up for grabs.

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HUFFPOST : Florida Hits Biggest Daily COVID-19 Jump As It Gears Up For GOP Convention
Florida coronavirus cases jumped 35% over the previous day on Saturday, smashing a single-day record, just as state officials are gearing up to host thousands of visitors for the Republican National Convention in August.

It was the third day in a row in which the state hit a record number of new COVID-19 cases, The Miami Herald noted.

The number of coronavirus cases reported on Saturday morning was 2,581. Friday’s total number of new cases was 1,902. So far, there have been 73,552 cases in the state, with 2,925 deaths.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump — has not supported business and behavior restrictions meant to stem the spread of the virus. He was one of the last governors to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, which took effect in Florida on April 1.

The state began reopening in early May, and many businesses — including restaurants — are nearly back to normal activity.

On Friday, DeSantis shrugged off the continuing increase in the state’s COVID-19 cases. He attributed the rise to more testing at nursing homes and an outbreak of the coronavirus among farmworkers.  More than 20% of Floridians are 65 and older, a demographic that is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. DeSantis triggered an uproar in April when he called Florida “God’s waiting room” because of its elderly population.

The key events of the Republican National Convention are now set for Aug. 24 to 27 in Jacksonville, after convention organizers and the president complained about COVID-19 social distancing requirements in Charlotte, North Carolina, where it was initially supposed to be held. A handful of official Republican party events will still be held in Charlotte.

DeSantis told a Florida TV station that he’s convinced that adequate precautions can be taken to protect the health of those attending the convention, and those they may interact with.

Officials are “really working hard on it,” said DeSantis. “They are working hard with the folks at the White House.”

Trump is expected to give his acceptance speech on August 27 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, which holds 15,000 people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to warn against large gatherings, as they pose a serious risk for contracting COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview Friday that any large group remains “risky” and “a danger” at this time. He added that it would be safer if Americans avoided all big gatherings, period.

Fired Florida Data Scientist Launches A Coronavirus Dashboard Of Her Own

Rebekah Jones was fired last month from her job at the Florida Department of Health, where she helped create a data

portal about the state’s COVID-19 cases. Now, she has created a dashboard of her own.

In some ways, Jones’ new portal for Florida coronavirus data looks a lot like the state health department’s. But it has a few key differences that reflect just how contentious coronavirus data has become amid politicized arguments about whether it’s safe for states to reopen.

Case in point: Jones’ dashboard has a map that shows which Florida counties are ready for the next phase of reopening. By her calculations, only two of the state’s 67 counties at the moment meet the state’s criteria for further easing restrictions. Jones says she was originally tasked with building essentially the same type of dashboard for the health department’s website in her role as a geographic information system manager — until it became clear what the results would show.

“When I went to show them what the report card would say for each county, among other things, they asked me to delete the report card because it showed that no counties, pretty much, were ready for reopening,” she says. “And they didn’t want to draw attention to that.”

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Pfizer Won’t Commit to Affordable COVID-19 Vaccine
Despite investing billions of taxpayer dollars on research and development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, pharmaceutical corporations refuse to guarantee that these drugs will be affordable for all who need them.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said this week that his corporation won’t put a “huge price” on a coronavirus vaccine. However, Pfizer’s definition of a “not huge price” could be very different from what patients can afford, and the public has no way to hold them accountable. Pfizer has a history of price-gouging — its best-selling drug is Prevnar 13, a vaccine that protects against pneumonia and other infections. Pfizer has dramatically increased the price on that drug.

Some members of Congress have proposed legislation to require that any COVID-19 vaccine or treatment is affordable, but it has not yet come up for a vote. The bipartisan Affordable COVID-19 Drug Pricing Act of 2020 from Reps. Jan Schakowsky (IL) and Francis Rooney (FL) will establish critical protections against price gouging amid the pandemic.

The bill:

  • ensures universal access to new, taxpayer-funded drugs that are used to treat COVID-19;
  • mandates these COVID-19 drugs be reasonably and affordably priced;
  • requires manufacturers to publicly report specific cost breakdowns; and
  • prevents excessive pricing of drugs used to treat any disease that causes a public health emergency.

“Without the kind of controls in this bill, drug corporations can continue to use their monopoly control over prices,” said Alliance Executive Director Richard Fiesta. “Big Pharma has demonstrated time and time again that they will use every opportunity to profiteer by setting sky-high prices on drugs developed with taxpayer dollars. Lawmakers must take strong action to prevent drug corporations from putting patients’ health over shareholders’ profits.”

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When A Doctor No Longer Accepts Medicare, Patients Left Holding The Bag

Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, Kaiser Health News

Pneumonia. Heart problems. High cholesterol. Betsy Carrier, 71, and her husband, Don Resnikoff, 79, relied on their primary care doctor in Montgomery County, Maryland, for help managing their ailments.

But after seven years, the couple was surprised when the doctor informed them she was opting out of Medicare, the couple’s insurer.  “It’s a serious loss,” Resnikoff said of their doctor.

Patients can lose doctors for a variety of reasons, including a physician’s retirement or when either patient or doctor moves away. But economic forces are also at play. Many primary care doctors have long argued that Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities, doesn’t reimburse them adequately and requires too much paperwork to get paid.

Read more at: When A Doctor No Longer Accepts Medicare, Patients Left Holding The Bag

Printable Version
Caravan in Waterloo, Iowa Grows Support for the Postal Service
Last Sunday members of the Iowa Alliance joined American Postal Workers Union Local 451 for a caravan to support the hardworking people of the U.S. Postal Service. The caravan called on their Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst to include funding for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in the next coronavirus relief package.
Without action from Congress, the Postal Service could be very different in September. Millions of older Americans rely on the USPS to deliver food, medicine, and mail amid the pandemic. Voters of all ages will need the federal program in November to deliver absentee ballots and protect our health while ensuring our right to vote.
“The Trump administration is purposely aiming to deny adequate funding to the Postal Service, and it refuses to provide the federal program with any support to survive the coronavirus and economic crises,” said Joseph Peters, Jr., Alliance Secretary-Treasurer.

Call (866) 828-4162 and demand that Congress approve emergency USPS funding. You will be connected to your Senator’s office.

Telemedicine Leaves Tens of Millions of Patients Behind
As more doctors turn to telemedicine amid the coronavirus pandemic, many patients are not getting the care they need. The technological knowledge and equipment needed to have an online appointment is a barrier for many people, particularly older adults.
According to Wired magazine, more than 150 million Americans have substandard internet speed and over half of low-income Americans say they’re concerned about paying their internet and phone bills. In rural areas with unreliable connections, phonecalls can be patients’ best option, but no visual contact makes it more difficult for doctors to treat and diagnose.
Telemedicine is an imperfect solution. The digital divide across the country is increasing disparities in the access that people have to health care. Patients without reliable internet service or access to devices are receiving inferior care, or none at all. To overcome this problem, these patients are being asked to come for in-person visits. However, many of the patients who are more likely to have problems accessing technology and need more frequent care are also more vulnerable to COVID-19: older adults and people with preexisting conditions.

“Telemedicine was supposed to increase access and protect patients during the pandemic,” said Robert Roach, Jr., President of the Alliance. “Unfortunately for some people, particularly older adults, it is another barrier that can cause serious harm if people aren’t getting the level of care close to what they had experienced in person.”

Trump’s War on Health Care Exacerbates Crisis for Seniors in Michigan and Nevada
Protect Our Care (POC) and the Alliance for Retired Americans this week released Michigan- and Nevada-specific reports on the impact of COVID-19 for seniors. A previous report had outlined how President Trump’s ongoing sabotage of seniors’ health care and attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have been especially dangerous nationally amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, POC-Michigan was joined by speakers including State Representative Padma Kuppa; Dick Long, President of the Michigan Alliance; and Bob Sisler, Group Chair of the UAW Region 1A Retirees, to explain how Trump’s war on health care is hurting Michigan seniors facing the COVID-19 outbreak. On Thursday, Nevada Alliance President Tom Bird joined POC and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto to brief the media about the effect of Trump’s health care policies on Nevada seniors.

Recursos en Español
Thanks for reading. Every day, we’re fighting to lower prescription drug prices and protect retirees’ earned benefits and health care. But we can’t do it without your help. Please support our work by donating below.
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Alliance for Retired Americans | 815 16th Street, NW | Washington, DC 20006 | www.retiredamericans.org
West Central Florida Labor Council: Union Made Face Masks
The CDC is recommending that everyone wear masks whenever possible in public. While a cloth mask is not medical grade, early studies show that they DO help slow the spread of COVID 19.
As in nearly everything we do, we have an opportunity for you to support our brothers and sisters. If you’re looking for a union made reusable cloth face mask, you can find one at Buttonsmith. Buttonsmith is a union shop (IUPAT) in Washington that has recently started making face masks that can be ordered online and usually ship within 24 hours of order. Check them out!
Shop Buttonsmith
AFL-CIO New York City CLC: Florida Retirees
From the New York City Chapter of the Alliance of Retired Americans, a reminder to any NYC CLC affiliate with retirees in Florida that the first primaries are scheduled for August 18, and only registered voters are eligible to vote (RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov). Also, voters should request absentee ballots from New York, if Florida is not their primary residence. We need to participate in the election process. This outreach initiative is a joint project of the NYC Chapter of the ARA and the Florida ARA (FLARA).
Gov. DeSantis vows to appeal court decision restoring felons’ voting rights
Florida elections officials are moving ahead to comply with a federal judge’s order that could pave the way for hundreds of thousands of felons to register and vote without paying court-ordered fines and restitution, even as Gov. Ron DeSantis initiated an appeal of the ruling on Friday.  Florida Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews sent a memo Wednesday advising county supervisors of elections about U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s decision overturning major parts of a 2019 law requiring felons to pay “legal financial obligations” – fines, fees, costs and restitution associated with their convictions – to be eligible to vote.

Matthews’ email to the county elections officials included a summary of Hinkle’s decision and told them “to review the order in its entirety.”

The disputed 2019 law was aimed at implementing a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentences, including parole and probation,” excluding murderers and people convicted of sexual felonies.

Hinkle had already ruled in October that it is unconstitutional for the state to bar felons who are “genuinely unable to pay” their court-ordered debts from voting. He also told the state to develop a process to determine whether felons had outstanding financial obligations and were unable to pay the costs.

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Launch schedule: Upcoming Florida rocket launches and landings (floridatoday.com)
 Florida’s Space Coast is slated to see high-profile launches this year, including the first uncrewed and crewed demonstration flights spearheaded by SpaceX and Boeing. Several commercial launches are expected, too.

>June 3: Falcon 9
Notes: Indefinitely delayed until after SpaceX Demo-2 (above).

Company / Agency: SpaceX internal mission

Location: Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Launch Time: Between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET

Landing: Drone ship

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a batch of 60 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the company’s seventh mission. Once on orbit, the constellation’s size will reach 540 satellites.

>July 17: Atlas V

Company / Agency: ULA for NASA

Location: Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Launch Time: TBD

United Launch Alliance will launch NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on an Atlas V rocket as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The rover is scheduled to land on Mars Feb. 2021 where it will aim to better understand the geology of the Martian surface as well searching for ancient life.

>2020 TBD: Falcon 9

Company / Agency: SpaceX for Argentina’s space agency

Location: Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Launch Time: TBD

Landing: TBD

SpaceX will launch the second SAOCOM 1B satellite for Argentina’s space agency. It will mark the first polar-orbiting launch from the Cape in 60 years.

>2020 TBD: Atlas V
Company / Agency: United Launch Alliance for NASA

Location: Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Launch Time: TBD

ULA’s Atlas V will launch the Crew Flight Test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The three-person crew includes NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson.

Trump’s War on Health Care Has Made Pandemic Even More Threatening for Seniors
A new report from Protect Our Care and the Alliance for Retired Americans reveals that President Trump’s ongoing sabotage of seniors’ health care is especially dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic, exacerbating the crisis. Eighty percent of the more than 100,000 Americans who have died from the virus have been over the age of 65.
On Thursday, Senator Bob Casey(PA), Alliance Executive Director Richard Fiesta, Wisconsin Alliance President Gary Mitchell, and Protect Our Care Chair Leslie Dach discussed with the media how Trump’s war on health care is especially harmful to seniors facing the COVID-19 outbreak.
Senator Casey and other speakers on the call noted Trump’s handling of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before and during the pandemic as a factor in the magnitude of the crisis. The ACA’s critical protections for people with pre-existing conditions are especially important now, given how quickly unemployment is rising and an increasing number of Americans without health insurance. At least 40 percent of adults ages 50-64, or about 25 million people, have one or more pre-existing conditions.

Also, Trump’s lawsuit to overturn the ACA puts annual wellness exams and preventive screenings, prescription drug discounts, and the closing of the prescription drug doughnut hole in jeopardy.

President Mitchell said, “Since President Trump was elected, the price of prescription drugs has continued to skyrocket and the drug corporations have become more powerful and profitable. He promised that he would lower them, but one in four Americans still report not taking a medicine their doctor prescribed due to the cost.”

Mitchell added that the administration “won’t even take the basic step of avoiding pandemic profiteering by requiring drug corporations to make any coronavirus drug or treatment developed with OUR taxpayer dollars affordable and available to all who need it.”

Executive Director Fiesta said on the call that the president should have allowed the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to complete its important work earlier on federal regulations requiring every hospital and nursing home to prepare for an airborne infectious disease pandemic like COVID-19. Had OSHA done so, these facilities and their workers would now have the respirators and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to save lives and help prevent the spread of the disease to health care workers.

“In just the last three months, COVID-19 has killed tens of thousands of older Americans. The President’s botched response shows a callous indifference toward the lives of seniors,” said Fiesta. “Rather than rallying the nation and marshaling the full resources of the federal government to fight this national emergency, he’s even used the pandemic as a pretense to gut Social Security by eliminating its dedicated funding. What have America’s seniors done to deserve this?”

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Florida, Ohio Alliance Chapters Call Out Trump’s Broken Promises to Nursing Home Residents
Florida Alliance Recording Secretary Barbara DeVane spoke on a press call Thursday with Rep. Donna Shalala, Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzoabout the Trump Administration’s failure to protect patients and workers in Florida’s 633 nursing homes. Ms. DeVane discussed the lack of universal COVID-19 testing of residents and staff and PPE for all nursing home staff during the pandemic.

“There are more than 73,000 nursing home residents in our state, and more than 95,000 health care workers who take care of them. And today they are all still at high risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Secretary DeVane. “We must do better by these Americans who have given so much to our country.”

Ohio Alliance President Norm Wernet spoke at a virtual roundtable discussion Wednesday with state Rep. Stephanie Howse, Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio Board of Trustees Member Cathy Crainand Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. They discussed the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on Ohio seniors.

Printable Version
Pandemic Is No Time For Big Pharma’s “Business As Usual”
Ahead of pharmaceutical giant Merck’s shareholder meeting on Tuesday, the Lower Drug Prices Now coalition, which includes the Alliance, joined Oxfam and the Oregon State Treasurer in issuing statements challenging the drug company’s record of price gouging and tax avoidance. Since the pharmaceutical industry routinely uses its monopoly power to raise drug prices, a practice that is even more egregious as drug corporations develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments with billions in taxpayer dollars.

Merck received a $1.2 billion tax break under the 2017 Republican-passed tax cuts, but has not invested those savings into increased research and development for promising drugs. Merck gave its CEO a 32% pay increase last year.

Another drug corporation, Gilead, used at least $70 million in taxpayer dollars to fund the development of Remdesivir, a promising coronavirus treatment. Despite using government funding to pay for the research, there are no limits to what Gilead can charge a patient for the drug.
“We should never allow pharmaceutical corporation profiteering, but it’s especially galling during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alliance President Robert Roach, Jr. “Congress must take strong action now to rein in this industry and make sure that Americans have access to the affordable drugs and vaccines they need.”
New Plan to Lower Insulin Prices Is Too Little, Too Late
On Tuesday, President Trump announced a new plan that would allow some Medicare recipients to pay less for insulin starting next year. However, the lower insulin costs will not be available to retirees who have an employer-sponsored health plan, or anyone who does not qualify for Medicare.

The proposal will allow Medicare beneficiaries to choose a Part D drug plan or Medicare Advantage plan offering the insulin benefit for the 2021 plan year. People with those plans will pay a maximum of $35 a month for insulin, an estimated savings of $446 a year.

Medicare beneficiaries who are interested must make sure to pick a plan that provides this benefit during open enrollment season, which starts October 15. However, these “enhanced” Part D plans are expected to have higher monthly premiums. Analysts noted that the price of insulin will not be lower, rather the amount paid by the beneficiary and the insurer will shift.

“The price of insulin, a long-existing drug, should never have increased so much in the first place,” said Joseph Peters, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “We need to negotiate better prices for all drugs — like House-passed H.R. 3 does. With over 40 million people across the country in need of affordable insulin, this proposal only helps some Medicare beneficiaries.”

Recursos en Español
Thanks for reading. Every day, we’re fighting to lower prescription drug prices and protect retirees’ earned benefits and health care. But we can’t do it without your help. Please support our work by donating below.
If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:

Express Donate: $5 Express Donate: $15
Express Donate: $25 Express Donate: $50
Express Donate: $100 Or, donate another amount
Alliance for Retired Americans | 815 16th Street, NW | Washington, DC 20006 | www.retiredamericans.org