June is Men’s Health Month. To discuss some of the issues senior men face,, Seniors Speak Out’s Nona Bear recently spoke with Mike Leventhal of Tennessee Men’s Health Network. Below is an abridged version of the interview.
Nona Bear (NB): Can you tell us a little bit about the people you serve, in particular the senior community of men and your outreach there?
Mike Leventhal (ML): We were founded in Tennessee in 2003, and we are an affiliate of the Men’s Health Network in Washington, D.C. Tennessee Men’s Health Network is the premier agency in Tennessee that provides services targeted toward the health of men and boys. We have a presence in all 95 counties of Tennessee, and we collaborate with private and public health care partners to fulfill our mission of building healthy families.
NB: Tell us a bit about Men’s Health Month.
ML: June is Men’s Health Month, and National Men’s Health Week (NMHW) is the week that ends on Father’s Day, June 15th to 21st this year. NMHW is a special awareness period created by Congress in 1994 to heighten awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. It should serve as a reminder to families to focus on the health of their fathers, brothers, and sons. There are hundreds of events taking place around the country and in Tennessee.
NB: In honor of that, what messages do you have for Medicare aged men in particular?
ML: When it comes to aging men, we really try to encourage them to take advantage of the health care system available to them. Many seniors don’t fully take advantage of all the benefits offered through Medicare. We encourage everyone to schedule an appointment with their physician, learn more about their health needs, and join us in our efforts to advocate for the health and wellness of men and boys.
NB: What challenges do older men face in accessing health care and being adherent to their medications?
ML: Many men in Tennessee, especially seniors, are economically insecure and struggle with the rising cost of housing, food, and of course health care and medicine. We urge men to choose a Part D program with the best formulary to meet their health care needs. We have a resource center and library on our website, www.menshealthnetwork.org, to assist anyone interested in learning more. Patients should ask about generics, as well as opportunities to order online. Both can be cost savers.
NB: For people who are enrolled in Medicare Part D, are you seeing a large amount of satisfaction?
ML: Most all of the Part D enrollees I meet are really satisfied with their health care. In fact, many aging men have confided in me that they wouldn’t know what to do without it. We’ve all heard the horror stories of seniors having to make a decision between buying groceries or refilling their prescriptions. With Medicare Part D, that is not nearly as much of a concern as it has been in the past.
NB: You mentioned in particular an issue about access of all types for people that live in rural areas. What advice could you give to both men and women enrolled in Medicare Part D in rural areas around the United States about access?
ML: In many rural communities there are social agencies that provide transportation for seniors to and from doctors’ appointments. It takes a lot of planning on behalf of the patients, that is always going to be an issue, but there are services available to those seniors living in rural communities, including the opportunity to refill prescriptions via mail.
NB: As you know there are many proposals which would change the structure of Medicare. How would older men react to that?
ML: I have to ask, “If it’s not broken. why fix it?” That’s our position on those changes. None of the seniors I have talked to about Part D benefits want to see it change. They like it as is.
NB: Imposing mandatory rebates and removing the non-interference clause are issues of contention.
ML: Men’s Health Network is concerned that rebates will drive up costs taking us back to those horror story days prior to Part D. Clearly this would not benefit the program and likewise non-interference would also drive up the costs of Part D. Both of these would negatively impact the health of patients.
NB: What worries you the most about the health of older men and the future of Medicare?
ML: A lot of my married friends like to remind me that married men tend to live longer. Unfortunately many Tennessee seniors are single and don’t have a spouse or a loved one to take care of them or oversee their health needs. This all comes back to educating men on the importance of regular checkups and taking your medications as prescribed. Having a Part D plan that fits your needs is certainly key to reaching that goal.
NB: What gives you hope?
ML: There are many members of Congress, especially in the Tennessee delegation, who are fighting to prevent any kind of changes to Medicare Part D. The fact that they are on the front lines fighting for Tennessee seniors and fighting to maintain Medicare Part D gives me hope.