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Teaching Gerontology, November 2010
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Wednesday, 21 Feb 2018

Teaching Gerontology, November 2010

In this issue:

- Declining Disability Rates
- Poverty among Older People
- Urban Legends: Health Insurance Profits
- The Best Health Care System in the World?
- Human Values in Aging
- Directory of Educational Programs
- Doubts about Social Security
- Web Sites to See



OK, maybe students don’t put it in those words.  But they’re probably too trusting, and uncritical, about what they find using search methods based on the Web.  That, at least, is the conclusion reached by Andrew Asher, lead research anthropologist for Ethnographic Research at Illinois Academic Libraries, which has been studying studied the search practices of hundreds of college students.

Asher has some bad news for us:

"Students do not have adequate information literacy skills when they come to college, and this goes for even high-achieving students." This "Google Effect" does not bode well even for those who go deeper into other data bases, says Asher: "Student overuse of simple search leads to problems of having too much information or not enough information ... both stemming from a lack of sufficient conceptual understanding of how information is organized."

True, libraries have tried to teach good search principles but they haven’t always succeeded.  In Asher’s view, they’ve spent "too much time trying to teach tools and not enough time trying to teach concepts." The solution, evidently, is more critical thinking.  If we fail to teach that, we won’t succeed in teaching much at all.

For more on the issues here, see: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/3442/0/



For the second year in row now Social Security recipients won't be receiving a COLA-- because officially measured inflation did not increase last year. But now comes news that Americans over 65 actually saw a decline in the poverty rate last year. This came about because of the timing of two different adjustments reflecting consumer prices –
a big COLA to Social Security beneficiaries in 2009 and then a decline in the index defining the poverty threshold for 2009. For details on this little-noticed trend, see "Why Did Poverty
Drop for the Elderly?" by Alicia Munnell and colleagues at: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/3443/0/


URBAN LEGENDS: Health Insurance Companies

Here's another one of those Urban Legends of Aging you've heard so many times:

"Health care costs are high because of the profits of health insurance companies."

Sounds pretty shocking.  But it turns out it's not true. According to the 2009 Fortune study of America's largest corporations those in the category of "Health Care Insurance and
Managed Care" actually ranked only 35th in profitability, at a mere 2.2% profit level, when measured by the standard metric of return on shareholder equity. 

It turns out that the health insurance sector was far behind aerospace, oil production, and food services, for example.  But some health care sectors, such as "Pharmaceuticals" and "Medical Products and Equipment" were very profitable indeed (19% and 16%). 

So why do we tend to make health insurance companies the villains? The reason isn't hard to see.  Health care insurance companies pass along most of their revenues to providers, but insurance companies are the ones whose bills we see so we naturally blame them for our problems. Insurance companies have many misdeeds to answer for, including high costs for marketing.  And some of the problems-- such as denial of coverage to people with pre-existing conditions-- are being corrected, in part, by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But,
if we want to change the system and get a handle on health care costs, we better start with the facts of the situation.  High profit margins for health insurance companies are not the cause of our problems. If we want solutions, we'll need to look where the problems arise.



Amid the current outcry around the 2010 health care reforms, it's helpful to look at the US system in comparison to others around the world.

Life expectancy in the US is lower than other industrialized countries, but not because of obesity, smoking, homicide or vehicle accidents... the usual culprits.  A recent article in HEALTH AFFAIRS reported on new research suggesting that the real cause is way we deliver healthcare itself, and there are complex parts to this problem.

But the dismal results should not be in dispute.  For example,in 1950, the US ranked fifth for female life expectancy at birth, with only Australia, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden doing better, according to the Health Affairs study by Peter Muennig and Sherry Glied.  By 1990, the United States had fallen to 46th in the world for women's longevity, and by 2010 it ranked at 49th for male and female life expectancy combined.  Whatever we're doing, it doesn't add up to "the best health care system in the world."



Outlines for courses on human values and aging are now available on-line:

DEATH AND DYING. For an Educational Module on Death and Dying, including ethics and advance directives, visit: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/2558/0/

VALUES, DECISION MAKING, AND ELDERLY: A course outline is available at: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/3448/0/   

BIOETHICS. A course outline for "Bioethics and Aging" is available at: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/2560/0/

See also "Medical Ethics: An Online Textbook" written and edited by Philip Pecorino at: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/2561/0/

For a sample issue or regular subscription to the "Human Values in Aging" e-newsletter, send a message to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

For a sample issue or regular subscription to "The Soul of Bioethics" e-newsletter, send a message to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



The AGHE Directory of Educational Programs in Gerontology and Geriatrics provides information about gerontology programs offered at almost 300 institutions nationwide.  Programs listed include those awarding degrees, credit certificates, specializations, and fellowships in aging at all educational levels, as well as those identified as clinical or research sites on aging. For more information and to order online, visit: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/3445/0/.



"Houston, we have a problem."

We've heard for years that young people are more likely to believe in flying saucers than in Social Security. Now comes some solid survey data to confirm the point. Young people, it
seems, are increasingly pessimistic about Social Security. According to a recent Gallup Poll, among those between the ages of 18 and 34, 76 percent do not believe they will receive any benefits.

The facts are not what people fear. Even if absolutely nothing were done about Social Security financing, the system would still be paying nearly 80% of promised benefits after 2037.  According to reliable projections, the system will never run out of money, even if benefits were reduced because of failure to deal with solvency questions.   The difference between zero and a 20% reduction is startling.  "Houston, we have a problem."



EARLY RETIREMENT. For a cross-national perspective on "The End of Early Retirement" visit: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/3248/0/

CASE STUDIES.  For case studies in occupational therapy and aging, visit: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/3446/0/

SYLLABUS.  For a collection of curricula on "Aging and Gerontology" check out SociologyIndex at: http://ntserver2.geron.org/t/60161/395346/3447/0/


"It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with."

-Pete Seeger, age 91


Association for Gerontology in Higher Education
1220 L Street, NW, Suite 901, Washington, DC 20005
202.289.9806 • This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it • www.aghe.org


**Used With Permission**