Tag Archives: seniors

Trump team rolling back data collection on older LGBT adults

Hardly two months into the Trump administration — and only one month after Congress confirmed notoriously anti-LGBT Tom Price as health secretary  — the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has eliminated questions about LGBT people from two critical surveys.

The administration is already rolling back data collection on LGBT people who receive certain federal programs, making it impossible to assess whether key programs for seniors and people with disabilities are meeting the needs of LGBT Americans.

Putting LGBT older adults at risk

The National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants is an annual, national survey of people who receive select services funded under the Older Americans Act, or OAA, the primary vehicle for delivering social support and nutrition programs to older adults in our country.

These essential programs include home delivered meals, congregant meals, transportation, caregiver support, and senior centers. The survey obtains performance outcome information, identifies service gaps, and supports program improvements. Policymakers and advocates rely on data to ensure OAA programs are meeting their goals without leaving anyone out.

The National Survey started collecting data on LGBT program recipients in 2014, and continued to do so in both 2015 and 2016 (available on file with CAP).

HHS’ proposed 2017 protocol, publicly announced on March 13, omits the survey’s only question about sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite the fact that LGBT people have been erased from the survey, the notice announcing the proposed survey alleges that “no changes” were made to the survey.

LGBT older adults face acute levels of economic insecurity, social isolation, and discrimination — including difficulty accessing critical aging services and supports. Data on LGBT program recipients would help HHS ensure its programs are meeting the need of LGBT seniors.

By rolling back data collection on LGBT people, HHS is giving up the tools it needs to ensure its effectively and equitably reaching all elders, including LGBT elders.

Ending data collection on LGBT people with disabilities

The Trump administration is also targeting LGBT individuals with disabilities, removing questions on LGBT identities from the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living.

A proposed redesign of the performance report was issued in January 2017 and did include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity; however, a revised version, issued in March 2017, omits these questions.

The Annual Report helps HHS evaluate the effectiveness and equity of programs designed to serve people with disabilities and ensure they can live independently in their homes and communities.

Available research suggests that LGBT people, especially LGBT older adults, face significant barriers to accessibility services. For this reason, it is particularly concerning that HHS is abdicating its responsibility to ensure the programs it funds equitably serve LGBT people with disabilities.

Why data matters

Data on LGBT program recipients could reveal disparities in how these HHS programs—which provide a critical safety net for to seniors and people with disabilities—serve LGBT people, potentially indicating discrimination or other barriers to access in the programs.

By rolling back data collection, the Department of Health and Human Services is throwing away the tools to ensure the department reaches vulnerable LGBT people in programs ranging from home delivered meals and senior center group meals, to transportation, caregiver support, and health promotion services.

Federal data collection on LGBT people is already scarce, but rolling back collection on crucial safety net programs is particularly disturbing. LGBT people experience overt and systematic discrimination across all areas of life—from education to housing, healthcare, employment, and the public square.

As a result, LGBT people face acute levels of income insecurity, making it particularly important that federal safety net programs meet the needs of the LGBT community.

By removing this data, the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Price risk erasing the experiences LGBT seniors and people with disabilities and making it impossible for HHS to identify and end disparities and discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.

Sejal Singh is the Campaigns and Communications Manager for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress. Laura E. Durso is the Vice President of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress. Aaron Tax is the director of federal government relations for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders.

Related resources

Spring storm: Activists gathered outside Ryan’s Racine office to protest health care plan

About 250 people from Illinois and Wisconsin assembled outside House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office in Racine March 14 to demand he drop his health care repeal plan.

The demonstration took place days after the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis showed the House GOP health plan would cause 24 million Americans to lose their health coverage.

People from Fair Economy Illinois and the Jane Addams Senior Caucus joined with members of Citizen Action of Wisconsin — all People’s Action organizations — and with SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans.

Protesters marched from Racine’s Monument Square on Main Street to Ryan’s office with cans of dog and cat food — the kind of lunch organizers say some seniors will have  if House Republicans pass their health plan is passed.

Outside the speaker’s office, people shared stories and fears of living without health insurance.

Reggie Griffin, of Chicago, is in his 70s and works as a home caregiver. He said he would be devastated by the defunding of Medicare because of chronic health conditions. “I want to live a life of dignity,” Griffin said, according to a news release from organizers of the protest. “There are some members of Congress, like Speaker Paul Ryan, who think I don’t deserve to live with dignity.”

“This is a huge test for our democracy, because the Republican repeal can’t survive once the people understand it’s true implications,” said Robert Kraig, executive director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

“This attack on seniors and families will devastate Midwest communities. It is irresponsible and ruthless,” added Anna Marin, manager of civic engagement for the Jane Addams Senior Caucus.

One of the speakers at yesterday’s action, Tammy Wolfgram, is a small business owner from Hartland.

Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Wolfgram, her husband and her daughter could not find any health insurance company that would sell them coverage because all three had pre-existing conditions.

She said they struggled to afford costly insurance with high deductibles on Wisconsin’s high-risk pool.

“If ACA is repealed, I don’t know what we will do,” Wolfgram said.

A report by the Congressional Budget Office released this week shows 14 million people will lose their insurance coverage by next year and 24 million by 2026.

“Anyone who believed GOP promises that people would still have health insurance under the Republican repeal plan now know that they were lied to; they are going to be left out in the cold,” said LeeAnn Hall, co-director of People’s Action and executive committee member of Health Care for America Now.

President Trump and I take the same drugs — except one

While popping my daily dose of pills the other day — you know, the drugs guys over 60 often take to try to squeeze out another decade or two — I stumbled across a news story describing the drugs President Donald Trump takes, according to his personal physician.

The list took me aback. The 45th president and I are aging like blood brothers. We’re both using baby aspirin to stave off heart attacks, a statin to lower our cholesterol and doxycycline to control a similar skin-reddening condition called rosacea.

But there’s one drug in Trump’s reported regimen that I would never touch — a medication to prevent premature baldness called Propecia. Never mind that my hair is thinning faster than the South American rain forest. You still couldn’t pay me to take Propecia. Here’s why:

Propecia, a simple daily capsule, may help the president preserve his famous hairline. His New York physician, Harold N. Bornstein, told The New York Times recently that he, too, takes Propecia, which may foster the flowing locks the doctor sports at age 69.

But keeping one’s hair through the miracles of modern medicine comes with risk. Propecia, the brand name for drug giant Merck’s finasteride, has become a magnet for personal injury lawyers with, by one count, 1,370 lawsuits filed by plaintiffs. There’s no indication that Trump — who’s famous for enjoying a spirited lawsuit now and then — has made any legal filings against Propecia. The White House press office did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.

The stories laid out in court filings are enough to make a bald man accept a hairline in full retreat. Complaints chronicle sexual dysfunction, mood swings and ruined relationships, even suicides, allegedly linked to the pills intended to keep hair intact. “The company intends to defend against these lawsuits,” Merck said, in a statement.

Propecia was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997. Its Madison Avenue-invented name rhymes with felicia, similar to the word for “happy” in Spanish.

A product label available online details how the drug works: It blocks the body’s ability to turn testosterone into dihydrotestosterone or DHT, a hormonal change that somehow keeps hair from falling out of prematurely balding male scalps (the medical term is androgenetic alopecia).

The literature reports a 48-week study of more than 200 men with androgenetic alopecia. Some participants were given placebos, but the ones taking Propecia “showed increase from baseline in total and anagen hair counts of 7 hairs and 18 hairs, respectively.” The men on placebos lost hair throughout the study.

Rival drug Rogaine, by Johnson & Johnson Consumer, also has been the subject of lawsuits, but most of those involve various allergic reactions to the minoxidil in Rogaine, not allegations of sexual dysfunction.

Many of the Propecia lawsuits allege that victims experienced sexual side effects after they stopped taking Propecia and/or Proscar — which, at 5 mg of finasteride, is five times the strength of Propecia and is specifically intended for men with enlarged prostates. About 50 lawsuits allege that Propecia caused or can cause prostate cancer, testicular cancer or male breast cancer, according to a financial statement from Merck. Others have sued Merck for memory loss or a combination of sexual side effects and memory loss.

Hundreds of these lawsuits have been consolidated into multi-district litigations. A trial, once scheduled for late 2016, has been delayed until at least September 2017.

On its website, Merck spells out three “most common side effects” of Propecia: decreased sex drive and semen count, and trouble with erections.

The company’s statement notes: “Merck stands behind the demonstrated safety and efficacy profile of Propecia (finasteride), which has been prescribed to millions of men.”

The warnings alone are enough to keep me from pondering Propecia. But then there are real-life stories such as that of Mikael Mikailian, 39, an entrepreneur who lives in Encinitas, Calif.

Mikailian started taking Propecia around the time he turned 20, and first noticed thinning hair. “I didn’t want to deal with the shame and embarrassment of being bald at a young age,” he said. A doctor prescribed Propecia and assured him it was safe. He estimates that the drug cost him about $90 per month.

The good news: His hair quickly started to grow and his bald spot disappeared.

The bad news: Within three years, Mikailian’s sex life was declining. He also noticed memory problems. One night, on a dinner date, he couldn’t remember his date’s name. He contacted Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a San Diego urologist known for mitigating the sometimes unpredictable side effects when men stop using Propecia.

Over 18 months, Goldstein slowly weaned Mikailian off of Propecia — while closely tracking his hormone and mood levels. Goldstein also prescribed a hormonal drug more commonly used by women.

“My body hadn’t produced testosterone for 20 years,” Mikailian said. “I was experiencing a complete lack of motivation and low sexual interest.”

Mikailian’s short-term memory problems worsened. “I 100 percent attribute this to the effects of Propecia,” he said.

Under care, he eventually reclaimed both his memory and his libido. But it cost him thousands of dollars that his health insurance wouldn’t cover.

Goldstein, in a phone interview, said he has more than 100 Propecia patients. “For many of them, it’s a nightmare situation,” he said. “It gets so emotional for me that I’m at a loss for words.”

Merck had no specific response to Goldstein’s criticism — nor to the negative experiences his patients say they had with Propecia.

In 2012, the FDA made Merck change the label for Propecia and Proscar to warn they may be linked to “libido disorders, ejaculation disorders, and orgasm disorders that continued after discontinuation of the drug.”

“We encourage patients to talk with their doctor if they have any questions or concerns about their health or about Propecia,” Merck said, in a statement.

Goldstein declined to specifically discuss Trump’s purported use of Propecia.

Mikailian, who is not currently involved in any of the Propecia lawsuits, said Trump should be attuned to possible memory loss.

As for me, hey, at 64, I can experience memory loss just by waking up. I don’t need drugs to exacerbate that. Nor is the potential replenishment of my hair worth jeopardizing my precious manhood.

So, I’ll stick with the baby aspirin and work toward building a healthier heart. You won’t find me counting hairs. Just blessings.

This story also ran in The Daily Beast. Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In a liberal pocket, assisted living residents fear Obamacare’s death

From an upscale assisted living center in Seattle, 87-year-old Brendan Wall has some advice for members of Congress eager to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Slow down.

“They haven’t said what they’re going to replace it with or how they’re going to replace it,” said Wall, who taught philosophy and religion for more than 30 years.

“I think it’s a major crisis, and I hope to God they take enough time to think about it and act on it so that the thing will work.”

Wall lives at Merrill Gardens, a complex near downtown Seattle where anxiety runs high over the transition to a new administration in Washington, D.C. And while the evolving drama may not affect him directly, he and other seniors here fret about the Donald Trump administration’s vow to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and what it will mean for their children and grandchildren.

Wall and five other residents responded to a Kaiser Health News request for area seniors willing to share their views about health care as Trump takes over and pressure mounts on Capitol Hill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In a news conference, Trump again called the health law “a complete and total disaster,” and said he intends to move quickly to replace it with something “far less expensive and far better,” though he offered no specifics.

The view from Merrill Gardens offers a snapshot of a larger national debate about the successes and failures of President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. Its residents live in liberal King County, where less than 22 percent of voters chose Trump. But only 125 miles away, in a rural district that voted for Trump, Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler says seniors’ anxieties over repeal of the Affordable Care Act are misplaced.

“Seniors are right to be concerned about the future of ACA, but not because of congressional Republicans’ plans,” spokeswoman Amy Pennington said in an email. “The law’s fundamental flaws, phony finances and broken promises will cause it to collapse on its own — Medicaid expansion, exchanges and all.”

At Merrill Gardens, residents are more politically engaged than in many parts of the country. They avidly follow the news through local newspapers, TV, the internet and radio.

The group that showed up for an open meeting in the complex’s private dining room ranged in age from early 70s to late-80s. They included retired education, business and health professionals. Loree Wagner, a center spokeswoman, said the organizers did not ask for political affiliation.

“I find this moment especially challenging,” said Dick Kirkendall, 88, a retired University of Washington history professor who specialized in the presidency of Harry S. Truman. “I have a hard time seeing what’s ahead, a harder time than I’ve ever had. I have a harder time knowing what my president is going to do.”

Everyone in the room said they had few complaints about their existing health insurance coverage through Medicare, Medicare supplements, private pensions and Veterans Affairs programs.

But they said they fear that proposed changes — including plans to privatize Medicare and revamp Medicaid and Social Security — will mean less care for their families and the poor.

“My opinion is not to touch Medicare or Medicaid,” said Terry Doucette, 76, a former admitting department manager for a local hospital. “I mean, people are dependent upon it and there needs to be a warning time and coming together in a real thoughtful way, making everything work together, especially for the least fortunate.”

Herrera Beutler said she supports plans to protect Medicare and Social Security for seniors in the future.

In addition to Wall, Kirkendall and Doucette, the group included John Ball, 73, a former developer, Sandra Wiatr, 80, a former school nurse in the Chicago public school system and Dr. Harold Ellner, 89, a retired urologist.

Overall, they sympathized with the frustrations of those who criticized the ACA, which created online health exchanges that expanded coverage to millions, but also saw sharp rises in costs and, in some cases, limited coverage choices.

“The Obama thing had been moving out of control, particularly for middle-class people whose insurance premiums have gone up and their deductibles are unbelievable,” Wall said. “They’re out of this world. I think they had to do something.”

But they also echoed the views of a recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll that found that while one in five Americans support repeal alone, three-quarters either oppose repeal entirely or want to wait until details of a replacement plan are complete. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The answer is not to scrap the plan that expanded insurance to 20 million people while offering no alternative, said Ball, who only obtained regular insurance when he qualified for Medicare eight years ago. He still lives with consequences of untreated injuries, including a broken clavicle that healed badly after a rugby injury years ago.

“I’m distressed at the proposal that we chuck out the baby with the bath water,” he said. “I’ve seen the backside of no insurance and living with something you hoped wouldn’t be considered a pre-existing condition. I have a pretty strong identification with those people who didn’t have insurance and were suddenly brought into the fold of Obamacare.”

In her work as a school nurse, Wiatr saw many students with asthma whose families couldn’t afford medication inhalers to control the potentially life-threatening disease. When she managed a family practice clinic, she saw people try to cut medical costs at the expense of health.

“There were people who didn’t do lab tests, who took only half of their medication because they couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I am very upset because I think our politicians don’t have a clue how difficult it is for people to receive medication and adequate health care.”

Ellner, the urologist, worked for a local Planned Parenthood clinic after he retired and flatly said he supports a universal, single-payer health system.

“Obamacare seems to have been a way station on the way to universal health care and now it’s not only being challenged, it’s being threatened,” he said.

The situation now calls for compromise and compassion from political leaders, said Doucette. “What I want to do is simply get the hard-headed guys from both parties to meet and really want to do this instead of wanting to win,” she said. “Now, we’ll see what Trump does. He has all these ideas and he thinks everyone else is on a lower level. I would like to see them work together.”

KHN’s coverage related to aging & improving care of older adults is supported by The John A. Hartford Foundation.  This report is made available by Kaiser Health News under a Creative Commons License.

St. John’s on the Lake makes room for residents’ furry friends

Anyone who’s ever had an animal companion knows just how much joy they bring. Our companion animals play an important and irreplaceable role in our lifestyles and emotions. They help to guide us through life’s many struggles and have been proven beneficial to our health and happiness. 

One challenge we all face is aging, particularly when the time comes to move into a retirement community. It’s a hard choice to leave one home for another, and many seniors must face the decision of whether to take a beloved furry friend with them. 

During such transitional times, having the love and support of a cherished pet can make more of a difference than ever. Just ask the resident pet owners who live at St. John’s on the Lake, 1840 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. There, pets are welcomed with open hearts.

“Your pet sort of becomes everyone’s pet,” says resident pet owner Jack Ford, his curly coated tan pup Casper sitting beside him.

Residents walk freely through the halls with their dogs, take them outside to the outdoor doggie run, and socialize together at pet-themed events. 

“When I walk down the hall, usually people say, ‘Hi, Dexter,’” says Bill Lau, referring to his dog. “They say ‘hello’ to him before they even say ‘hello’ to me!” 

The cat owners also have their special place. One resident walks her sleek black cat Samantha in a lovely red harness during what would regularly be the dog hours.

For cat owner Mary McAndrews, whose cats all have been named after mystery authors, the decision to adopt Josephine was prompted by the hard choice the cat’s former “parent” had to face: Leave Josephine behind with a social worker when she entered senior living.

“Josephine was 8 years old,” explains McAndrews, “and the story that we heard was that she was brought in by a social worker. Her previous owner had two cats and was going into a senior facility that only allowed for her to keep one.” 

To celebrate the bonds between St. John’s residents and their pets, Lau conceived of a touching photography exhibit called the Pet Project. Resident photographers Dan Patrinos, Art Beaudry and Jim Ballard photographed 10 dogs, 14 cats and their owners in their homes at St. John’s. The display of black-and-white photographs features candid shots, portraits and group photographs of residents with their pets.

On a special side display titled Remembrance, photographs of pets who have passed are also included. This touching project is on display at St. John’s until mid-November and is free and open to the public.

The warmth that shines through each photograph evidences the power of pet companionship and the quality of life it adds to the residents and staff at St. John’s on the Lake. The photographs underscore the family atmosphere that St. John’s strives to create for everyone, including those for whom no family would be complete without an occasional “woof!” or “meow.”

Happy birthday and many more: Social Security turning 80

As Social Security approaches its 80th birthday Friday, the federal government’s largest benefit program stands at a pivotal point in its history.

Relatively modest changes to taxes and benefits could still save it for generations of Americans to come, but Congress must act quickly, and even limited changes are politically difficult.

The longer lawmakers wait, the harder it will become to maintain Social Security as a program that pays for itself, a key feature since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935.

“The more time that they take, the less acceptable the changes will be because there needs to be adequate time for the public to prepare and to adjust to whatever changes Congress will make,” Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, said in an interview.

Social Security’s long-term financial problems are largely a result of demographic changes. As baby boomers swell the ranks of retirees, relatively fewer workers are left to pay taxes.

In 1960, there were more than five workers for every person receiving Social Security. Today there are fewer than three. In 20 years, there will be about two workers for every person getting benefits.

“Remember, these are our most vulnerable population,” Colvin said. “These are the elderly who helped to build this country. These are the disabled who certainly did not wish to become disabled.”

The options fall into broad categories: benefit cuts, tax increases or a combination of both.

None is popular.

Nearly 60 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get monthly Social Security payments, a number that is projected to grow to 90 million over the next two decades.

About 168 million workers pay Social Security taxes.

Adding to the gridlock, policymakers are moving in opposite directions. Republicans are pushing to cut benefits while a growing number of Democrats is pulling to expand them. The debate is playing out in Congress and the presidential campaign, increasing the likelihood that Washington will deal with Social Security the same way it has so many other issues – not until it becomes a crisis.

Some 72 members of Congress signed a letter to President Barack Obama in July, calling for Social Security benefits to be enhanced.

“In my view, given the fact that poverty among seniors is going up, that seniors are struggling, that people with disabilities are struggling, we have got to expand benefits, not cut them,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running for the Democratic nomination for president.

The poverty rate among those 65 and older has inched up in recent years. But it still is significantly lower than the poverty rate for younger age groups, in large part because of Social Security.

Sanders has proposed increasing Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, and increasing minimum benefits for low-wage workers.

The average monthly payment is $1,221. That comes to about $14,700 a year.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, scoffs at the idea of expanding benefits.

“Where are they going to get the money?” asked Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security. “They don’t ever seem to give any consideration to how deeply in debt our country is and how difficult it’s going to be to get out of it.”

For much of the past three decades, Social Security produced big surpluses, collecting more in taxes than it paid in benefits. Social Security’s combined trust funds are now valued at $2.8 trillion.

The retirement trust fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2035. At that point, the program would collect enough payroll taxes to pay about 79 percent of benefits, triggering an automatic 21 percent cut.

The disability trust fund is projected to run out of reserves much sooner, in late 2016. If that happens, it would trigger an automatic 19 percent cut in benefits.

Obama and other Democrats want to redirect tax revenue from the much bigger retirement fund to the disability fund, as Congress has done in the past. But Republicans say that would be like robbing seniors to pay the disabled.

If the two funds were combined, they would have enough money to pay full benefits for both programs until 2034, according to the trustees.

But long before then, Social Security’s long-term financial problems could become too big to solve without painful remedies or excessive borrowing.

Once the surplus is gone, the gap between scheduled benefits and projected tax revenues starts off big and quickly becomes huge. In the first year, the gap would be $571 billion, according to agency data. Over the first decade, the deficit would total more than $7 trillion.

Social Security uses a 75-year window to forecast its finances, so the projections cover the life expectancy of every worker paying into the system.

Options to address Social Security’s finances, along with the share of the 75-year shortfall that each one would eliminate:

TAXES

Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages. Workers pay half and their employers pay the other half. The tax is applied to the first $118,500 of a worker’s wages, a level that increases each year with inflation.

Options:

-apply the payroll tax to all wages, including those above $118,500. This option would wipe out 66 percent of the shortfall.

-increase the combined payroll tax rate by 0.1 percentage point a year, until it reaches 14.4 percent in 20 years. This option would eliminate 49 percent of the shortfall.

RETIREMENT AGE

Workers qualify for full retirement benefits at age 66, a threshold that gradually rises to 67 for people born in 1960 or later. Workers are eligible for early retirement at 62, though monthly benefits are reduced.

Options:

-gradually increase the full retirement age until it reaches 68 in 2033. This option would eliminate 15 percent of the shortfall.

-raise the early retirement age to 64 in 2023, and the full retirement age to 69 in 2027. This option would wipe out 29 percent of the shortfall.

COLAs

Each year, if consumer prices increase, Social Security benefits go up as well. By law, the increases are pegged to an inflation index. This year, benefits went up by 1.7 percent.

Options:

-adopt a new inflation index called the Chained CPI, which assumes that people change their buying habits when prices increase to reduce the impact on their pocketbooks. The Chained CPI would reduce the annual COLA by 0.3 percentage point, on average.

This option would eliminate 19 percent of the shortfall.

-adopt a new measure of inflation that takes into account the higher costs that older people have to pay for health care. This measure, called the CPI for the Elderly, would increase the annual COLA by about 0.2 percentage point, on average.

This option would increase the shortfall by 13 percent.

On the Web…

How would you fix Social Security? http://interactives.ap.org/2012/social-security/

Poll: Two-thirds expect Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage nationwide

A new survey finds broad popular support for same-sex marriage in the United States and strong expectations that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

The survey finds, overall, that 55 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, while 37 oppose.

Even more Americans — 65 percent — believe the U.S. Supreme Court will rule to legalize same-sex marriage later this month.

The Public Religion Research Institute conducted the survey of 1,009 adults from June 3-7 to measure public opinion on same-sex marriage, the upcoming Supreme Court decision, nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBT Americans, the acceptability of small business owners refusing services on religious grounds and the amount of discrimination faced by LGBT people in the United States.

“As national opinion has shifted toward support for LGBT rights, including among religious Americans, white evangelical Protestants are increasingly becoming an island of opposition amidst a sea of acceptance,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Today, white evangelical support remains below the level of support from a decade ago in the general public, and they are also less likely than other religious groups to acknowledge that LGBT Americans face discrimination.”

The issue of same-sex marriage continues to divide religious Americans. Majorities of religiously unaffiliated Americans, white mainline Protestants and Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry.

Conversely, only 29 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 35 percent of non-white Protestants support making same-sex marriage legal. Majorities of white evangelical Protestants and non-white Protestants oppose same-sex marriage.

The poll also showed: More than six in 10 Americans say transgender people and gay and lesbian people face a lot of discrimination in American society.

These numbers are down from February 2014, when roughly seven in 10 Americans said they believed LGT people. Majorities of every faith group except white evangelical Protestants say transgender people face a lot of discrimination: non-white Protestants (53 percent), white mainline Protestants (60 percent), Catholics (68 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (72 percent). Less than half (49 percent) of white evangelical Protestants believe that transgender people face a lot of discrimination, while 37 percent say that they do not.

“Republicans see the world faced by gay, lesbian and transgender Americans quite differently than Democrats and independents do,” said Daniel Cox, research director of Public Religion Research Institute. “Republicans are far more likely to doubt that LGBT Americans face a lot of discrimination in the United States and are much less likely to support efforts to address it.”

Three quarters of Democrats (75 percent) and 61 percent of independents say that there is a lot of discrimination against transgender people in American society. By contrast, half of Republicans agree and 39 percent say that transgender people do not face a lot of discrimination.

Nearly seven in ten Americans — including 65 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants — favor laws that would protect LGBT people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing.

In addition, 60 percent of Americans oppose allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people, even if it violates their religious beliefs. This opposition includes 64 percent of Catholics, 63 percent of non-white Protestants and 59 percent of white mainline Protestants.

In contrast, a majority of white evangelical Protestants support allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds.

There also is a significant generation gap on the issues. Young adults, age 18 to 29, are the strongest supporters of same-sex marriage — 72 percent favor legalizing same-sex marriage. Young people are much more likely than older Americans to believe that gay, lesbian and transgender people face a lot of discrimination. Young people are also much more likely than seniors to say they have a close friend or family who is LGBT.

National Dog Bite Prevention Week is underway | What to do, what not to do

National Dog Bite Prevention Week is underway. And Because children are the most vulnerable and easily injured, the American Veterinary Medical Association is focusing on teaching kids how to deal with dogs.

Of the 4.5 million people bitten every year by dogs, more than half are kids, said Dr. Jose Arce, an American Veterinary Medical Association board member. 

Bites kill about 16 people a year. However, specific numbers on dog bites are lacking because few people seek treatment. And no one tracks bites by breed.

WHAT NOT TO DO

_ Stare into a dog’s eyes.

_ Tease a dog.

_ Approach one that’s chained up or injured.

_ Touch a dog you don’t know that’s off a leash.

_ Run or scream if one charges.

_ Play with a dog while it’s eating.

_ Touch one while it’s sleeping.

_ Get close to one that’s nursing puppies.

_ Leave a small child alone with a dog, even if it’s the family pet.

WHAT TO DO

_ Ask an owner before petting a dog you don’t know.

_ Let the dog sniff your closed fist before touching it.

_ Freeze if a dog runs toward you.

_ Socialize puppies so they are comfortable around people and other animals.

_ Use a leash in public.

HOW PARENTS CAN HELP

When the mail arrives, place your pet in a closed room so it can’t go through a window or screen door to possibly attack the carrier. Tell children not to take mail from the carrier in front of the dog because the animal could see it as threatening. 

Also, teach children to treat dogs with respect and avoid rough or aggressive play.

WHAT KIDS CAN WATCH

The veterinary group made YouTube videos describing miscommunication between dogs and kids. A new short will be released each day through the week. One gap is that most pooches don’t like to be hugged. That helps explain why two-thirds of young victims get bites on the head or neck, according to the American Humane Association.

INSURANCE PAYOUTS 

Bites and other dog-related injuries cost insurers $530 million last year, about a third of their paid claims, the Insurance Information Institute said. 

The number of dog-bite claims decreased 4.7 percent from 2013, but the average cost per claim rose by 15 percent because of higher medical costs and settlements. The average claim in 2014 was $32,072, up from $27,862.

Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice urges calls for Medicaid expansion

The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice is encouraging progressive voters to call members of the legislative Joint Committee on Finance to urge support for Medicaid expansion in the state.

WNPJ said the committee is reconsidering the issue and “could, with your help, add the acceptance of federal Medicaid funding to the upcoming budget — meaning that roughly 170,000 more Wisconsinites could get the health care that they need.”

WNPJ estimated that voters would need about 20 minutes on May 1 to make the calls and provided a contact sheet:

Joint Committee on Finance Members:

Senator Alberta Darling, Co-Chair​ (608) 266-5830.

Senator Luther Olsen​ (608) 266-0751.

Senator Sheila Harsdorf (608) 266-7745.

​Senator Leah Vukmir (608) 266-2512.

Senator Tom Tiffany (608) 266-2509.

Senator Howard Marklein​ (608) 266-0703.

Senator Lena Taylor ​ (608) 266-5810.

Senator Jon Erpenbach (608) 266-6670.

Representative John Nygren, Co-Chair​ (608) 266-2343.

Representative Dale Kooyenga (608) 266-9180.

Representative Amy Loudenbeck (608) 266-9967.

Representative Dean Knudson (608) 266-1526.

Representative Michael Schraa (608) 267-7990.

Representative Mary Czaja (608) 266-7694.

Representative Chris Taylor​ (608) 266-5342.

Representative Gordon Hintz (608) 266-2254.

Callers, according to WNPJ, might want to tell committee members that:

• Healthcare is a human right.

• At least 170,000 addition people could be covered by BadgerCare, many of whom are your own constituents.

• The federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of the expansion for the first three years and 90 percent after that. This frees up state tax dollars to be spent on other worthy programs.

• It will help hospitals and medical providers by reducing the amount of uncompensated care.

• It would make mental health services available to many who do not have insurance to pay for those needed services.

• People are healthier and live long when they have access to health care.

• It is good for the economy both in creating jobs and in providing a healthier workforce.

• Access to health care coverage should not be a partisan issue.

• Wisconsin taxpayers sent more money to Washington, D.C. in federal taxes than they receive back in federal program dollars. This would help fix the balance.

• The Joint Committee on Finance can amend the governor’s budget to accept the provisions of Medicaid expansion, giving coverage to many additional people.

• Accepting federal expansion money would bring in almost $400 million for the BadgerCare program over two years.

For more information, or to let WNPJ know of calls made, email wisconsin.pnhp@gmail.com.


Stand out grads: Getting noticed at the ceremony

It’s hard to stand out at graduation when dozens, hundreds or even thousands of your classmates are dressed in identical caps and gowns.

But some students individualize their appearance by decorating their mortarboards. Designs range from a simple lettered message like “Thanks, Mom and Dad!” to an elaborate craft project with images, glitter or 3-D constructions. Other students decorate caps with school logos, or fraternity or sorority letters.

At the University of Texas at Dallas last year, Laurel Mohrman had a simple message on her cap: “DEBT FREE.”

A 2014 Lehigh University grad, Lisa Glover, attached a miniature 3-D dinosaur to her cap; Glover launched a business called KitRex after graduating, selling kits to make paper dinosaurs.

Nicole Malli, a senior at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, wants to make sure her cap photographs well when she graduates May 17 because she’s a commencement speaker. She’s been looking on Pinterest for inspiration, and will probably use a pearl design because pearls are the official gemstone of her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega.

Ali Boden, who is getting her degree in sustainability and business from Arizona State in Tempe, will be taking a trip to Europe after graduation and hopes it’s the first of many trips to see the world. She plans to decorate her cap with a map of the world and a phrase “along the lines of `The world awaits,'” she said. She’s been going to Michael’s, the craft supply store, to figure out the best materials for lettering.

ASU even has a contest to recognize the best-decorated mortarboards.

Ruth Lauture is graduating from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, with a degree in marketing, “so my cap is going to say, `I mean business.’ Something simple, but really meaningful.” The word “mean” will be in pink, partly to help her mom pick her out from the crowd.

Marc Goldberg’s mom had such a hard time finding him at his commencement from Indiana University in 1997 that it inspired him to create a business called TasselToppers.com. Goldberg has now shipped several hundred thousand customized mortarboard designs, which let buyers choose background colors and add images and text. There’s artwork on the TasselToppers website, or you can upload your own. Universities have licensed their logos to the company, and some colleges are encouraging high school seniors to put their future alma maters’ names on caps at 12th grade graduation ceremonies.

TasselToppers’ finished designs cost $15 and are printed on durable plastic the size of the mortarboard, with reusable adhesives. That way, rented caps can be returned undamaged, and commencement policies that don’t permit mortarboard decorations can be temporarily accommodated.

Goldberg says he’s been amazed at “the creative stuff that people come up with,” including touching messages “in loving memory of a mom or dad who could not be there. It’s a concept that they’re looking down on them at graduation and the cap is looking back up.”

Also noteworthy, Goldberg says, are designs ordered by older students who may have taken years to finish their degrees (“49 years old, finally done”); single moms declaring, “I did it for my kids”; and designs honoring students who are the first in their family to graduate. He also partnered with Autism Speaks to include the organization’s puzzle-piece logo on his website so that students with issues related to autism can add that symbol to their caps as they celebrate their achievements.

“Everyone has a story,” Goldberg says.