Strides being made against Alzheimer’s

An op-ed by NHC Senior Vice President Gerald Coggin, which was published Jan. 4, 2013, in The Tennessean.

Click here to download the article in PDF format.

Strides being made against Alzheimer’s

Amid the recent rhetoric surrounding the Affordable Care Act, the “fiscal cliff” dilemma and Congress’ perceived lack of progress, some very good news has been ignored. This good news will help Alzheimer’s patients and their families, who are all victims of this horrible, implacable disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States — the only one in the top 10 that cannot be prevented or cured. One of every eight older Americans is living with Alzheimer’s; in fact, 5.4 million Americans have been diagnosed. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The annual estimated cost of Alzheimer’s care in the U.S. is $200 billion, including $140 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. With the number of patients expected to rise as “baby boomers” age, these annual costs probably will soar to $1.1 trillion (in current dollars) by 2050.

Barring a medical breakthrough in preventing, treating or, God willing, curing Alzheimer’s, this disease will burden millions of Americans in the years ahead. The good news is that Congress has taken a number of steps to address this crisis, including the National Alzheimer’s Project Act of 2011, which allocated $50 million to finding a cure by 2025.

Congress has recently instituted the “Independence at Home Demonstration,” a pilot program in which patients with chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s will be treated in their own homes by a team of doctors, nurse practitioners, geriatric pharmacists and other health professionals. National HealthCare Corp. (NHC), where I work, operates a full spectrum of care options for elderly patients, from home care to long-term nursing care, including specialized Alzheimer’s units. When properly administered and funded, an “at-home” care option can help many families dealing with Alzheimer’s and other chronic conditions. Coordinated care — whether at home or in a nursing care center — makes sense for the patient and can help reduce the cost of care.

Another helpful provision of the ACA is a Medicare prescription drug rebate for seniors. Currently, Medicare beneficiaries lose their prescription drug coverage at a certain dollar amount — the so-called doughnut hole — leaving many people to pay for expensive Alzheimer’s medications out of pocket. With the cost of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient averaging $100,000, this is an expense that most families cannot bear. The federal government has already sent millions of drug rebate checks to Medicare beneficiaries, and it will soon enforce a 50 percent discount on their prescription medications.

NHC is a national corporate sponsor for the Alzheimer’s Association, which provides much-needed assistance for those stricken by this terrible disease. In our role as sponsor, NHC has raised more than $135,000 this year alone. While we continue our quest for a world without Alzheimer’s, it appears to us that Uncle Sam is making good strides toward helping patients and their families cope with this illness.

Those of us in the business of helping these patients are optimistic that one day Alzheimer’s will join other illnesses relegated to the dusty shelf of preventable diseases. Please help us in this cause. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org or 1-800-272-3900. You can find more information on ways to help a loved one on our website at http://nhccare.com. Thank you.