People, Places & Events

     
   

Medicare Part D saves dollars and lives
By Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
Special to The Monitor

WASHINGTON, D.C.–A government program that exceeds customer expectations while generating cost savings is rare indeed.
The Medicare prescription drug benefit, or Part D, is one of those programs.
Last January, Medicare began offering a prescription drug insurance program, and over 22 million seniors, including over two million Texans, have enrolled in Medicare Part D.
Many of these enrollees previously did not have prescription drug benefits, but now 90 percent of Medicare recipients do have prescription drug coverage.
Private research and development by the pharmaceutical industry is revolutionizing medical care, as ailments are increasingly treated with medications instead of operations.
By investing millions of dollars in the development of new medicines and therapies, manufacturers continue to introduce breakthrough treatments.
Competing market forces keep the costs of these products down, and consequently, millions of Americans benefit from disease prevention and reduced recovery periods.
It is imperative for those who rely on Medicare to have access to affordable prescription drugs.
When Congress first passed the law creating the drug benefit, estimates projected that seniors would pay an average monthly premium of $37. Instead, the average premium is $24, and there is no expected change for 2007. Statistics show enrollees have saved an average of $1,200 this year on their prescription drug costs.
Not surprisingly, a survey of current enrollees revealed that more than 80 percent are satisfied with their plans.
The program is also costing the government much less than originally estimated.
Medicare recently reported a $200 billion reduction in projected outlays over the next decade. Allowing insurance companies that offer prescription drug plans to negotiate with drug manufacturers provides significant savings – nearly $7 billion this year alone.
Lower-than-expected drug price growth has resulted in an additional $3.7 billion in savings.
With lower prices for consumers, the program is an example of a successful partnership between the public and private sector.
Currently, Medicare Part D has a window for enrolling in or changing plans this year.
Open enrollment is available until December 31, which provides an opportunity for new Medicare beneficiaries to take advantage of this valuable benefit and avoid paying a penalty in the future, or for current beneficiaries to change to a new plan to fit their needs.
Those satisfied with their coverage do not have to do anything to maintain their current plan. Everyone with Medicare is eligible for this coverage, regardless of income and resources, health status, or current prescription expenses.
Competition among private insurers also leads to comprehensive prescription drug plans for beneficiaries.
For those looking to switch plans, there are additional choices for coverage in 2007.
In Texas, Medicare recipients can now choose from 60 prescription drug plans, up from 47 in 2006.
More plans are also offering coverage for the period between a drug plan’s standard level of coverage and the catastrophic coverage level, also known as the doughnut hole.
In 2006 most seniors participating in Part D had the opportunity to choose from six plans offering full or partial coverage of the gap. The number of plans offering gap coverage in 2007 has increased to 17.
Prices for prescription drugs are also declining – especially for generics. Several retail chains have recently introduced $4 monthly generic prescriptions for more than 300 drugs in their pharmacies across the United States.
I will continue working with my colleagues in the Senate to improve the Medicare program for all seniors and, most importantly, educating them on how to utilize the benefits it offers.
With lower prices for brand-name drugs, proliferation of generic drugs, and more competition between private drug plans, benefits are enjoyed by both customers and taxpayers.
Please consult the website www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE for more information.

Humane Society reviews 2006
Special to The Monitor

TOOL–The Humane Society of Cedar Creek Lake had an interesting 2006 but is hopeful to continue its late-year momentum into 2007.
“The lowlight of 2006 was the IRS situation,” Janeen Gledhill, Board president said, referring to the IRS placing a lien on their bank account in mid-September for back due taxes from 1997 to 2000.
“However, that ugly cloud had a silver lining, in that that situation brought our shelter back into the peoples’ minds and made them aware that we still existed and were still providing animal control services to the community!
“A lot of bad history and severed relationships caused many people to push our shelter out of their mind,” Gledhill said.
“But, just as we were on an upswing with improving our operations and public perception, the IRS came for a visit.
“The publicity aided us in disseminating our message even though we were shut down for a couple of days. Thankfully, we were able to place over 70 animals with new homes as far away as Plano,” she added.
One alliance the shelter is really grateful for is with the Friends of the Animals Low Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic.
“Their support of our efforts to improve our adoption rates has been invaluable, not only for the dogs and cats that have been tended to but also to show the public that our alliance goes a long way toward serving the community,” Gledhill said.
Increasing donations and fund-raising efforts was also a goal to be set and attained.
“End-of-year fund-raising was better than we had hoped for,” the organization’s treasurer Jerry Hazelip said.
With the three largest events, including the Seven Points Dairy Queen Classic Car Event in October, the November Shelter Garage Sale, and the recent Cedar Creek Lake Galleries fund-raiser, we were able to raise nearly $4,500 to help the animals in our care.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the way this challenging year ended!” Hazelip said.
The Humane Society was also proud and surprised to be given a donation from the Pinnacle Women’s Club at the recent Pinnacle Women’s Philanthropy meeting.
“We were very humbled to be considered for their generosity,” Gledhill said.
Other positive 2006 events include engaging local veterinarian Dr. Ed Ptacek to assist them in their weekly animal care needs; engaging local animal-care specialists, Joan Guertin and April Franklin to join in the shelter’s efforts to help both the community and animals; meeting with Henderson County Commissioners and Judge Holstein to investigate the possibility of receiving county funding for animal shelter services; and joining the Greater Cedar Creek Lake Chamber of Commerce in early December.
Challenges ahead for the shelter include educating the community on the need to take better care of their animals while also increasing adoption and/or reclaim rates.
“We take in more than 45 animals a week, sometimes more, mainly from the various animal control officers,” shelter manager Tracey Stone said.
“If people would just take care of their dogs, we wouldn’t be at capacity as much as we are,” she added.
Stone also relies on Dallas area rescue organizations to help relieve the shelter on their capacity of dogs.
“If we, for some reason, aren’t able to adopt out some of our good dogs in a timely manner, we contact various dog rescue organizations in Dallas and try to meet them part way to give them our pure bred dogs. It is confusing how we get so many labs, beagles, and German Shepherds brought here,” Stone said.
The shelter doesn’t receive any adoption funds for giving those animals to the rescue organizations, but the shelter staff and board members are comforted by the animals finding forever homes.
“Our holiday wish for our shelter is to attract a lot more dedicated and consistent volunteers. We have been blessed to meet so many new and wonderful volunteers, but to run an organization like this, we need a lot more people. There are plenty of things for people to do, and they don’t even have to be at the shelter to help,” Collins said.
Examples of their organizational needs are someone to head up the fundraising efforts for 2007; finding someone to act as liaison between the shelter and the local media; and several people to help transport animals to and from The Friends of the Animals Clinic on Tuesday morning and afternoons.
If you are interested in helping the Humane Society of Cedar Creek Lake, please call (903) 432.3422 or send an email to hsccl1@yahoo.com.

Alfalfa provides protein but not energy needs for cows
By Brian Cummins
VZ County Extension Agent

CANTON–I had this question presented to me a couple of weeks ago, and felt the answer might help some other producers.
A producer had bought a load of alfalfa to feed his beef cows, and had planned to just feed 10 pounds of this hay a day to his herd.
What did I think? Alfalfa is the queen of forages. It is just about a cow’s most perfect food. It contains high concentrations of excellent-quality protein, moderate concentrations of energy and is loaded with vitamin A.
Cows do fantastic on an alfalfa diet. The 10 pounds would meet her protein needs, but would not provide enough dry matter or energy to maintain the cow.
A cow has a daily requirement of energy and protein. Although the concentrations of energy and protein vary in each hay harvest, the protein concentration of alfalfa hay will generally be so high that 10 pounds contains enough protein for a dry cow and a lactating cow of average milking ability.
But that amount of alfalfa hay, which is moderate in energy, would only supply about 50 percent of the energy requirements of dry or lactating cows.
So, cows that are fed 10 pounds of alfalfa hay will lose weight so fast that milk production and fertility would be a disaster.
They would be getting all the protein they need, but only half the required energy.
You will find this is easier to understand when the protein and energy requirements of the cow are compared to the amounts of protein and energy present in 10 pounds of average alfalfa hay.
The National Research Council recommendations are that a dry 1,100-pound cow in her last trimester of pregnancy receives 1.6 pounds of protein and 11.2 pounds of energy.
On an as-fed basis, 10 pounds of alfalfa (average quality, 18 percent protein/55 percent energy) supplies 1.62 pounds protein and 4.95 pounds energy.
This is perfect for a dry cow’s protein needs, but 4.95 pounds of energy is only 44 percent of the needed 11.2 pounds of energy.
For a lactating cow, the deficit in energy would even be greater. Alfalfa hay can be much higher than 18 percent protein, but not much higher in energy than our example.
It’s clear that round bales or an energy supplement must be added to 10 pounds of alfalfa hay to balance a cow’s diet.
I estimate that to maintain an average 1,100 pound mixed-breed dry cow that is already in adequate condition, the last three months of gestation will take three pounds of alfalfa hay and 16 pounds of average-quality round bale grass hay daily.
The 21 pounds of alfalfa hay per week could be divided into two feedings a week, and round bales put out two days a week to minimize labor.
Estimates to feed lactating cows are 10 pounds of alfalfa hay and 15 pounds of round bale grass hay daily.
A four-times-weekly feeding schedule can be worked out to supply the cows with these amounts of hay.
I hope that this information will help you know how to feed and use alfalfa.