Chairman’s Blog: Sharing This Year’s Top Stories in Aging and Health

It’s hard to believe that 2021 is almost over. As we prepare for the new year, it’s important to look back and reflect on the year that we’ve just had. In the latest episode of This is Growing Old,  a podcast from the Alliance for Aging Research, Jim Scott, Chair of the Alliance’s Board of Directors, joined Alliance President and CEO Sue Peschin to reflect on the year’s top stories in aging and health. Watch their conversation in the video above or listen below.

Transcript

Sue Peschin:

Hi, everybody. Welcome to This is Growing Old, a podcast from the Alliance for Aging Research. I’m Sue Peschin and I serve as president and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research. It’s hard to believe that 2021 is almost over. And as we prepare for the new year, it’s important to look back and reflect on the year that we’ve just had. So here to help me do that today is Jim Scott, chair of the Alliance for Aging Research’s board of directors. Jim, thank you so much for being here and welcome to This is Growing Old.

Jim Scott:

Thanks for having me, Sue.

Sue Peschin:

Absolutely. So, Jim, please tell our listeners more about your professional background. When did you first connect with the Alliance and how did we convince you to become chair of the board of directors?

Jim Scott:

Well, during both my time working at the centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, and for Roche, I had the pleasure of meeting people who work for the Alliance of Aging Research. And this includes Dan Perry, your founder, who invited me to join the board. And I did that after I created my own firm, Applied Policy. And so given my work at CMS, I have expertise in Medicare and that’s an important population for the Alliance. And I was honored to be able to join the Alliance’s board and to serve and share my knowledge. And four years ago I was elected chair.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah. And we are so glad you were. So let’s take a look back at 2021, what do you think are some of the top stories of the year in aging and health?

Jim Scott:

Well, three that come to mind are of course COVID and then new treatments for Alzheimer’s and telehealth and a broader opportunity to use it. So for the COVID vaccines, they’ve saved millions of lives already. And I’m just astounded by the science and the pace of discovery and the ability to go within eight months to boosters and 10 months vaccines for children. It’s really just amazing. And we’re still in the middle of it, but the vaccines offer hope.

Jim Scott:

And that is really amazing. Also, in June of this year, the first Alzheimer’s treatment was approved in more than I think two decades. And Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease affecting more than six million people and without much opportunity for treatment, other than some things for the symptoms. So Aduhelm is really exciting because it starts to treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s. And I think opens the doorway for treatments that will eventually lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s.

Jim Scott:

And then last is telehealth, that it used to be limited to rural areas and a second best kind of treatment. But with COVID, many of us, including me have had virtual physician visits using technologies like the one we’re on today. And that’s really made healthcare more accessible for lots of people, even if you don’t live in a rural area. And so I think telehealth is here to stay and will become more and more part of the mainstream the way people receive their care.

Sue Peschin:

Right. Yeah, absolutely. Well, so this I was excited to ask you, because is at the end of 2019, you wrote about healthcare issues to watch for the following year. And your predictions were pretty spot on. Some of the topics you mentioned included what you just talked about, telehealth, wearables, early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases and value-based payment in Medicare. Obviously, we had no idea that COVID-19 was coming at that point. What do you think are the biggest advances since you made those 2019 predictions?

Jim Scott:

Well, I think more of those, but in addition, I feel like wearables and apps on your phone have reached sort of their time and that health insurers, like Medicare are going to have to figure out how to deal with those innovations. Because your iPhone or mobile device is more and more becoming a tool that you can use to help, not just monitor your healthcare, but also include some treatments. And I think as the FDA approves those, payers and insurers are going to have to deal with them so that they can become more accessible to people who need them.

Sue Peschin:

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think the FDA too has steps they may know, I think more than probably CMS that they have this large field to deal with and they’ve been coming out with more guidances and regulations around how to deal with it. But it’s also, it’s a huge resource issue at the agency. So that’s my plug for more funding for the FDA around those issues.

Jim Scott:

Absolutely.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah. So what do you see as the top healthcare issues to watch in 2022?

Jim Scott:

So right now Congress is considering the Build Back Better Act, and that has a lot of provisions in it that while it’s in the news now they won’t really take effect until 2025 or so. But one of those is improving the affordability of prescription drugs. So I think that’s going to continue to be a topic. And as that gets implemented, hopefully it’ll make the treatments that doctors prescribe for me and other patients more accessible. Then also, a law that’s already been passed is the No Surprises Act and that’s to prevent surprise medical bills.

Jim Scott:

And I think anybody who’s been to the hospital has had sort of at least one unpleasant surprise with some bill that came from a out of network physician that treated them when you thought you were going to the hospital because if you were in network and you [crosstalk 00:07:01] will insurance cover my procedures and nevertheless you get a bill from somebody that’s usually more money than you expect. And that’s not fair.

Jim Scott:

So I think going forward, more transparency and fewer surprises when you go to the hospital, especially for elective procedures like hips and knees and things like that is going to be a big, big improvement. And then people keep talking about how expensive drugs are and other new technologies, but I think that despite all that there’s still going to be more advancements in both the pharmaceutical and medical technologies that are going to be really exciting in the coming year.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah. And I’m hopeful, I mean, not necessarily in the coming year, but at least in the coming years that if we’re able to kind of close the just never ending conversation on drug pricing that we can start to look at insurance reform and hospital cost reform and all the other aspects of healthcare that impact patients, so.

Jim Scott:

Absolutely.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah. So the Alliance celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2021. What have you enjoyed most about being part of our organization and where do you see the Alliance going in the next 35 years?

Jim Scott:

Well, first of all, congratulations. That’s quite an achievement. 35 years for or any organization is… Puts it on the map as well established. And I particularly enjoy working with you and your team who are passionate about helping the aging population live longer and healthier lives.

Jim Scott:

And over the next 35 years, I know you’re going to continue the good work and become even more of a recognized leader. And the Alliance likewise will become more and more of a recognized leader in the aging population to increase the health span of people. So it’s not just living longer, it’s being able to enjoy those years and that’s really important and I think that’s an important part of the Alliance’s work.

Sue Peschin:

Thank you, Jim. That was great to hear. Thank you. So now for two questions that we ask all of our podcast guests. The first one is when you were a kid, what did you imagine growing older would be like?

Jim Scott:

Well, when I was younger, I thought the age I am now was so old and that I was done for. That I’d be slow and feeble and in pain. But boy, am I glad I was wrong.

Sue Peschin:

Good. And so what do you enjoy most about growing older now?

Jim Scott:

Well, I’m blessed to feel as well today as I did when I was a kid. And I’m grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve had, especially working with the Alliance. And I now have the perspective and understand the benefits and acceptance of things the way they are instead of feeling like I need to fix everything. And what’s really surprising to me is I’m still me. Yeah, I feel it’s the same me inside that I was when I was a little kid is still the same me now. So that’s, I think that’s really neat.

Sue Peschin:

I think that’s a great nugget because it’s so true. It’s people, young people, I think when we are young, we tend to think that older people see things so differently and they’re so different from us. It’s almost like a different species the way sometimes we see patients versus people who aren’t patients, right? But you’re still the same person. And for the most part, people have a lot of the same hangups and the same stuff that gets them excited. And certain things change over time.

Sue Peschin:

And I think it’s great that the attitude, your attitude is mellowed and the way that you approach things, not trying to control so much. But I think that’s a great nugget. So thank you for sharing that. And-

Jim Scott:

Thank for having me, Sue.

Sue Peschin:

Absolutely. And thank you so much for joining us today on This is Growing Old. And more importantly, thank you for your service on the Alliance’s board of directors, happy holidays and happy early new year. And I’m looking forward to continuing our work together in 2022.

Jim Scott:

You too. Thank you, Sue.

Sue Peschin:

Absolutely. Thanks to all of our listeners for listening to This is Growing Old. Our intro and outro music is City Sunshine by Kevin Macleod. Thank you to Janelle Germanos, our Alliance communications manager for producing our show and for working with us at the Alliance. And we wish her the best as she moves on to New Jersey in the new year. We hope you are enjoying listening to our podcast. If you’re liking what you’re hearing, please give us a review on Apple Podcast. Thank you, and we’ll see you in 2022 for season three of This is Growing Old. Have a happy and healthy holidays, everyone.