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Looking Toward the “Fourth Quarter”

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

Tonight President Obama will lay out his fourth quarter plan for his last two years in the White House. Over the last few weeks, he has shared a couple of “SOTU spoilers,” traveling the country to discuss different aspects of what he will present in tonight’s speech.

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Hispanic older adults, families, and caregivers we represent, here are a couple of areas we would like to see the President prioritize over the next two years.

1. Work with Congress to protect low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

The Medicare Qualified Individual program, which pays for low-income seniors’ Medicare Part B premiums, has been temporarily extended until March 31, 2015. Congress should make this program permanent and provide funding to help low-income seniors, particularly Hispanic older adults, gain access to the Qualified Individual program and other Medicare benefits as those who are elegible are most likely not to receive it.

Medicare fraud is also a pervasive issue among Latino seniors. They are systematically targeted due to the multiple barriers that keep them from accessing and understanding their benefits and rights as Medicare beneficiares. Congress should ensure that proper funding be secured to conduct culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and education to this vulnerable, hard-to-reach population.

2. Urge Congress to strengthen and reauthorize the Older Americans Act.

The Older Americans Act is long overdue for reauthorization, and needs to be modernized to better serve the needs of the growing and diverse older adult population it serves, particularly low-income seniors who are struggling to make ends meet. The programs of the OAA are also extremely important in allowing older adults to age in dignity and the best possible health as it authorizes a wide variety of programs focused on health, nutrition, caregiver support, job training, and more.

3. Urge Congress to pass the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2014.

The bill would provide some sorely needed updates to this long-neglected program which provides subsistence level income for over 8 million older Americans and people with disabilities. A majority of those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are women, including two-thirds of those who receive SSI on the basis of age. Revising the current SSI program to match 2014 cost of living standards and expenses is not only common-sense, but critical to the success, health, and well-being of all seniors, and especially those in the Hispanic community.

4. Provide increased subsidized housing opportunities for Hispanic older adults and low-income seniors.

The Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Section 202 Program helps to expand the supply of affordable housing with supportive services for older adults.  It provides very low-income older adults with options that allow them to live independently but in an environment that provides support activities such as cleaning, cooking, and transportation. Additionally, the building and housing units have railings and other features which make them easily accessible for older adults. Many Hispanic older adults live in subsidized housing, but the wait lists are long, and many wait years before qualifying. Increased funding for these housing programs is needed to reduce the wait periods and allow more Hispanic older adults and low-income seniors to have a safe and affordable place to live.

5. Take action so more working families have access to family and medical paid leave.

Currently, the United States is lagging behind other developed countries on paid family and medical leave policies: it is the only developed nation that doesn’t require employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave. According to the White House, it is estimated that 43 million private-sector workers in the United States do not have access to any form of paid sick leave. We applaud President Obama’s announcement last week, which included a call to Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, but there is more to be done to ensure that all working American families have access to the time off they need to take care of themselves or a family member.

NHCOA will be live tweeting tonight during the State of the Union, which starts at 9 pm ET. For live streaming and more information about tonight’s speech, visit wh.gov/SOTU.

What I am thankful for on MLK Day

Washington, DC NHCOA Leaders class of 2012

By Dr. Yanira Cruz

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day to remember Dr. King’s legacy through acts of service. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people are participating in a wide range of projects that strengthen communities, promote leadership, and provide solutions to social issues. As we strive to achieve the democracy and social justice Dr. King envisioned for our country, MLK Day serves a reminder that servant leadership and volunteerism lie at the heart of who we are: a society that believes in giving back, sharing the best of our talents, and empowering others to be the best they can be.

Service and volunteerism at the core of our Hispanic Aging Network, a growing group of individuals, groups, and organizations that carry out our mission of improving the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers, in different areas of the county. The commitment and dedication of this intergenerational, multicultural, and bilingual network is the lifeblood that enhances and inspires our work in Washington and in the field. Their volunteerism helps to:

Today I would like to offer my gratitude to those who share the best of themselves—not only on MLK Day, but every day of the year— to improve the lives of others who need encouragement, support, and aide.

¡Muchas gracias!

Día Once: ¡Luchemos Contra el Fraude al Medicare en el 2015!

En los próximos 12 días estaremos compartiendo escritos diarios para motivarles a pensar en la salud y el bienestar suyos, de sus padres y abuelos y de toda la familia durante en las fiestas de fin de año. Algunos escritos ofrecerán consejos cortos, mientras que otros llamarán a la reflexión. Esperamos que estas palabras lo inspiren y que las comparta con sus amigos, vecinos y seres queridos. 

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El fraude en el cuidado de salud es uno de los mayores tipo de fraude afectando a los adultos mayores, especialmente nuestros abuelitos. Esto es a causa de múltiples factores como poco dominio del idioma, aislamiento y miedo a las autoridades hacen que los adultos mayores hispanos sean blancos vulnerables, por lo que entender lo qué es el fraude al Medicare y cómo prevenirlo es tan importante para nuestros padres y abuelos.

A través del programa National Hispanic SMP, NHCOA ha desarrollado una una serie de videos educativos cortos para adultos mayores hispanos y sus cuidadores sobre el fraude al Medicare. Esta serie forma parte de un catálogo de recursos disponibles en español para ayudar a adultos mayores, sus familiares y cuidadores a proteger, detectar y reportar el fraude al Medicare.

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Durante esta época navideña, compartamos el regalo de la información y la educación con nuestros queridos padres y abuelos para que puedan unirse a la lucha contra el fraude al Medicare y protegerse de personas malintencionadas.

Si sospecha que un ser querido ha sido víctima del fraude al Medicare, puede llamar al National Hispanic SMP para una consulta gratuita en español al 1-866-488-7379. 

Day Eleven: Join the Fight Against Medicare Fraud in 2015!

Over the next 12 days, we will be sharing daily posts to motivate you to think about your health and well-being during the holiday season. Some posts will focus on handy tips, while others will offer a reflexion. We hope these words will inspire you and we invite you to share them with friends, neighbors and family.   

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Health care fraud is one of the most pervasive types of fraud targeting seniors, especially Hispanic older adults. Multiple barriers such as limited English proficiency, isolation, and fear of authority make Latino seniors vulnerable targets for unscrupulous scammers, which is why understanding what Medicare fraud is and how to prevent it is so important for our parents and grandparents.

Through the National Hispanic SMP program, NHCOA has developed a series of short educational videos for Hispanic older adults and caregivers that cover Medicare fraud basics. These videos are part of a catalog of Spanish language resources available to help Latino seniors, their families, and caregivers protect, detect, and report Medicare fraud.

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During the holiday season, let’s share the gift of awareness and education with our beloved parents and grandparents so they can join the fight against Medicare fraud and protect themselves from scammers and con artists.

If you think your loved one has been a victim of Medicare fraud, they can call the National Hispanic SMP for a free consultation in Spanish at 1-866-488-7379.

Day Four: Get your Medicare ready for 2015!

Over the next 12 days, we will be sharing daily posts to motivate you to think about your health and well-being during the holiday season. Some posts will focus on handy tips, while others will offer a reflexion. We hope these words will inspire you and we invite you to share them with friends, neighbors and family.

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The Medicare Open Enrollment Period ended 8 days ago, and many of you may have changed health insurance or drug plans. If so, here is a short check list of recommendations from Medicare to ensure you make the most of your 2015 coverage:

1. Make sure you have your current Medicare card. This is particularly important if you changed either your Medicare health insurance plan or drug plan (or both) for 2015. If you haven’t received a new card or welcome packet by January 1, 2015 contact your plan provider for assistance. If you need to fill a prescription right away, find out how to fill a prescription without your card.

If you changed from a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO) back to Original Medicare, use your red, white, and blue Medicare card when you go to the doctor. Also, you should request a new card if yours is lost, damaged, or the information needs to be updated.

Medicare Card

2. Budget for next year’s Medicare Part B deductible.

Keep in mind that you have Medicare Part B and are in Original Medicare, you’ll have to meet your deductible before your Medicare coverage pays for services and supplies. Next year, the Medicare Part B deductible will be $147, the same as it was in 2014. When you plan your health care budget, take into account the increased cost of your doctor visits during the time it will take to cover your deductible. Learn more about Medicare costs in 2015.

3.  Schedule appointments to get any preventive tests or screenings.

Medicare covers all sorts of preventive services to keep you healthy, as well as screenings to check for health problems. Many of these services are covered each year for free. Ask your doctor when you should schedule your yearly wellness visit in addition to other screenings you might need. Talk to your doctor about these covered preventive services to find out what’s right for your health needs. Also, if you are computer savvy or have a loved one who can assist you, use the MyMedicare.gov web application to create a preventive services calendar to keep track of your visits.

4. Make sure your drug or health plan meet your needs.

Sometimes sudden life situations can significantly change your needs. If you realize that your drug or health insurance plan no longer suit your specific needs, there is a way to change your coverage without having to wait until the next Open Enrollment. At any time during the year, you can switch to a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Prescription Drug Plan that has a 5-star rating.

Plan ratings are based on member surveys, information from doctors and health care providers, and other sources. The plan ratings are scores that show the quality and performance of the plan, on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest-rated plans. You can make this change once per calendar year. Click here to find 5-star health and drug plans in your area.

Remember that the most up-to-date information on Medicare is at www.medicare.gov.

Help Latino Seniors Protect Themselves from Medicare Fraud on Grandparents Day

Many of us have fond memories of our grandparents: hanging out with them on holidays, sharing something sweet to eat, hearing stories of days gone by. They’d greet us with warm hugs and big smiles, spoil us rotten, brag about us to their friends, and we thought they were just the most wonderful people in the world.

Well, many of these wonderful older adults can also fall prey to Medicare fraud because they are so trusting and tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. We all know of those older adults that contribute money to what they think is a worthy cause because someone called them up and tugged at their heart strings. We’ve all heard of those older adults who lose their entire retirement savings to some scam that ended being too good to be true. The same thing happens with Medicare.

Medicare fraud is a multi-billion dollar problem in the United States, and there are all kinds of unscrupulous folks out there waiting to pounce on unsuspecting older adults. In fact, the FBI estimates that Medicare fraud could be as much as $60 billion a year, or about 10 percent of all healthcare expenditures in the country, and it’s expected to go up as the number of older adults increases. That’s money that’s not being used for much-needed healthcare services.

In fact, federal officials call Medicare fraud a crime against healthcare. Did you know that the Affordable Care Act authorizes more jail time if the Medicare fraud involves a million dollars or more? The scammers and unscrupulous people who rip off our older adult population can spend from 20 to 50 percent more time behind bars for scams that involve significant amounts of money. The federal government is serious about catching the fraudsters; we all should be.

Latino older adults are especially vulnerable because some have little or no knowledge of English, they are afraid to ask questions, they have low levels of formal education and very low levels of health literacy.  Moreover, many don’t have enough resources to transport and go to places to access information. Others aren’t sure how to navigate a rather daunting bureaucracy and they’re not sure where to turn for help, so when they see someone who they think   might be helpful,  they put their trust in that person.

What can we do about it?  Talk about it.  Spread the word to prevent Medicare fraud.  Sunday, September 7th happens to be National Grandparents Day, and that’s the perfect time to talk to your grandparents or other older adults about Medicare fraud. Besides spending the day with them, taking them out to eat, or just going over for a nice long visit, make sure they know never to lend their Medicare card out to anyone, and to be real careful who they give their personal information to over the phone. Have them look over their Medicare statement to make sure there aren’t any charges that don’t look right. Report any inconsistencies. The National Hispanic SMP, a Medicare fraud prevention program can help you with additional information: 1-866-488-7379.

Everyone benefits when we all come together to fight Medicare fraud. It’s your money. Let’s work together to keep more of it.

 

Medicare Fraud Outreach in the Latino Community is ALL about Partnerships

What makes the Latino community so hard to reach and why is it so hard to fight Medicare fraud in the community?

It’s because this is a unique community. There are cultural and linguist challenges that the community faces. Many people in the community have very low levels of education and low levels of health literacy, and they don’t know how to navigate the system and don’t know what to ask. Sometimes they don’t even know there are programs that they can use and many are very trusting. It’s especially difficult for older Latinos who are also low income, because it’s hard for them to turn down something they get for free, even if they’re not supposed to get it.

But it’s not a lost cause. There are some very effective ways to reach the Latino community and it’s all about thinking in terms of two key words: personalization, and partnerships. Older Latino adults don’t want to be talked down to. They want to feel a personal connection with people and they want to be able to trust that the person they are speaking with is giving them the right information.

That’s why is so important to do to where they are: the places of worship, the community centers, the beauty parlors; anywhere that the community happens to be. Go where they are and talk to them.  And this is where partnerships are important: a partnership with local community leaders and a partnership with members of the media so that they can help you get to the members of the community, and achieve that most important partnership of all: a partnership with older Latinos.

First of all, the Spanish language itself is not monolithic.

Don’t assume that the words that are spoken in the Latino community in Los Angeles, for instance, are the same as the Latino community in Miami or New York. Cultural competency goes beyond language. It’s not enough to be able to speak the language, but rather requires a good understanding of the community. The same word may mean something completely different depending on where members of the community are from. This is where having a relationship with local community leaders becomes very important.

We can’t go into different communities and say the same thing. We have to be mindful of the differences.

Sure, there are many commonalities, such as the importance of family and working together and we definitely have to build on that, but working with community leaders allows us to work with those who know the community best. Community-based organizations and places of worship are also good places to work with to reach older Latinos. If we explain to them about Medicare fraud and how it affects the community, they will help us. We all care about the community and we can work together to prevent Medicare fraud. Another key partnership is with members of the media.

Both the mainstream media and Latino community are important, but the Spanish-language media is considered part of the community. Older Latino adults look at many members of the Latino community as honest people they respect to give them the news and to help the community. At NHCOA, we have found that inviting a reporter or news anchor to a community event has been very effective. Whenever that happens, we get a lot of people to come and listen, because these members of the media are well known and well respected in the community.

Establishing relationships with members of the Latino media is a very good and very effective way to inform the community about Medicare fraud and why they should care.

Members of the Latino press are a good channel for information.  When we work with members of the Latino press, the reporter has a buy-in. This is a community of partnerships, of relationships, of friendships, and if we ask everyone to talk about Medicare fraud prevention, we are creating momentum. If we could get a television news personality to take the flag on Medicare fraud prevention, the campaign would be very successful. Television programs and Spanish-language community newspapers are good outlets, but probably the most effective media outlet in the Latino community is the use of radio, and it’s a medium we don’t use nearly enough.

Radio is a big part of an older Latino’s daily life, and it’s about putting together a PSA and sending it out to stations. It’s about going on local radio programs, talking about the importance of Medicare fraud and giving listeners the opportunity to call-in and ask questions about it. Local radio programs have been a very effective way to reach the community. Whenever we’ve used radio, the phones have been ringing off the hook with people seeking answers. We’ve also found that it’s not a one-shot deal.

Repetition is the name of the game here.

It’s not about going on a radio show and leaving town to never come back, but rather to come on as many times as possible. Repetition, repetition, repetition. A very effective method is finding a news hook. Pay attention to the news. When Medicare scammers are arrested, for instance, that’s a good opportunity to talk about Medicare fraud and show older Latinos why it’s an issue they should care about.

We’ve also found that talking about other topics doesn’t mean that the issue of Medicare fraud won’t come up.

For example, at NHCOA we found that when we talked about the Affordable Care Act when it was rolling out, we had many questions about Medicare. Scammers don’t take a day off, and they were telling Latino seniors that under ACA, they had to change coverage, which is not true and that was causing a lot of confusion. By talking about ACA, we were able to clear up a lot of questions older Latinos had about Medicare and Medicare fraud. It’s also a good idea not to forget that because family is so important in the Latino community, making sure the message of Medicare fraud reaches members of an older Latino’s family is very important.

Additionally, making sure to include caregivers in any messaging is also essential, as it is oftentimes the caregivers who are making decisions for the older Latinos. When you create partnerships with community leaders, community-based organizations and members of the media, you create an effective way to talk to older Latinos, their families, and caregivers about Medicare fraud in a caring, respectful way and they feel they have a stake in the issue and would help make sure it doesn’t happen to them.

5 Common Challenges to Conducting Medicare Fraud Outreach Among Hispanic Older Adults

In order to get Hispanic older adults to report Medicare fraud, we must first be able to reach them effectively. Detection is the best way for seniors to protect themselves from scams and fraud. This is why breaking away at, and tearing down barriers, that prevent them from receiving reliable, trustworthy information regarding Medicare fraud is key.

Here is a look at 5 common challenges or barriers to conducting effective Medicare fraud outreach among Hispanic older adults and tips to address each one. 

Language barriers

Most Hispanic older adults speak more Spanish than English. They rely on their children, grandchildren, or friends to understand documents or other information they may encounter on a daily basis. The inability to fully understand causes many to feel frustrated and give up. While Latino seniors may be more comfortable speaking Spanish, they may encounter difficulties reading and writing. This is due to low levels of education and the reliance on jargon, slang and “Spanglish” (the combined usage of Spanish and English words to communicate). Therefore, even if the information is written in Spanish, many might have a hard time understanding certain wording and phrases they are not familiar with.

Reaching Hispanic older adults through a variety of culturally and linguistically appropriate communication channels is critical to eliminate the language barrier (i.e., local Spanish language radio PSAs, local Spanish language TV interviews). 

Misinformation

The propagation of myths within the community is frequent and wide-scaled, ranging from old wives tales to urban legends. Older adults, who are mostly homebound and have little contact with the outside world, are especially susceptible to blending facts and information with myths and taboos. And, even if they receive correct information, it can be difficult and confusing to retain. As we age, being introduced to new concepts and facts can be overwhelming, especially topics such as Medicare, which is complex in nature.

Constant reinforcement is key to fighting misinformation and is best achieved through one-on-one and group discussions in culturally and linguistically appropriate settings (i.e., community centers and places of worship).

Difficulty Navigating the Medicare System

These days technology plays a big role in our  healthcare system, especially the enrollment process. For an older adult who is used to handwritten paperwork and face-to-face interaction, it is difficult — and seemingly impossible to them— to use the internet and virtual assistance to process an application, enroll or report fraud. While online services are great and helpful to many, Latino seniors are a generation behind in terms of technology and access.

For Hispanic older adults to use the Internet to access and manage their Medicare accounts, in-person bilingual assistance is critical. 

Isolation

Seniors may not always go to a senior center or community center. In fact, if they do not have caregivers or family to take them, or go with them. They may not leave their home at all. As they reach their golden years, most of them stop driving and cannot walk, bike, or take public transportation as easily as when they were younger. This causes isolation and for the most part prevents them from receiving valuable information about Medicare and Medicare fraud. Even when they attend a senior center or community center, most times the seniors do not have the opportunity to attend informative events or fairs due to lack of transportation.

Sending culturally sensitive bilingual volunteers to make home visits or go to places Hispanic older adults frequent (places of worship, grocery stores, etc) can help bridge the isolation gap many Latino seniors experience as they age. 

 

The National Hispanic SMP (NHSMP), an off-shoot of the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) initiative, is the only Medicare fraud prevention program that uses culturally and linguistically appropriate tools and resources to close the gap in Medicare fraud education among Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers. The NHSMP program was launched in Rio Grande Valley, Texas in 2005 and expanded into southern Florida in mid-2011. NHSMP also provides technical assistance to organizations working with older adult populations, so they can more effectively expand their reach to Hispanic seniors, while meeting the demands of our increasingly diverse older adult population. 

7 Medicare Fraud Red Flags to Avoid

Data shows that the populations most vulnerable to fraud are those that face multiple barriers, such as poverty, low levels of education, little or no English skills, and a lack of access to culturally and linguistically competent resources. These factors apply to Hispanic older adults and result in them being less likely to become aware of, or not know what to do, if they are targeted for health care fraud. Everyone — Medicare beneficiary or not — should care about this because at the individual level, health care fraud can cause people to receive lower quality care.

On a larger scale fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare and other forms of health insurance is a drain on health care consumers: billions of dollars are lost each year due to health care fraud. This drives up the cost health care and health insurance for everyone. If you are a caregiver or live with your parents or grandparents, here are 7 red flags that you should look out for:

Be aware of door-to-door sales persons or telemarketers. RED FLAG: Being insistently and repeatedly offered services or products your loved one doesn’t need. (Scammers tend to target people with arthritis, diabetes or sleeping problems.)

Be aware of the services and products Medicare covers. RED FLAG: Providers that charge co-pays on clinical lab tests or Medicare-covered preventive services such as PAP smears, health screenings, or flu shots. (Medicare covers certain preventive and screening services.)

Be aware of high-priced services or diagnostic tests. RED FLAG: Pressure and scare tactics from a service provider. (If you don’t take this test, you will lose your benefits.)

Medicare doesn’t sell anything. Period. RED FLAG: A “Medicare sales person” who calls your house, sends an e-mail, or knocks on your door.

Medicare never contacts its beneficiaries to confirm or verify their information. RED FLAG: Receiving a call, house visit, or e-mail asking to confirm or verify Medicare information. (Medicare cards should be treated the same way as a credit card or Social Security number.)

Be aware of “free” products or services — nothing is free. (This includes meals and transportation.) RED FLAG: Sales persons offering a “free” product or service in exchange for your loved one’s Medicare number.

Be aware of anyone other than a physician or medical professional asking to review your loved ones’ medical records or recommend services. RED FLAG: Only your loved one’s doctor should have access to and review his or her records and make medical recommendations.

And, the golden rule:

Always review your loved one’s billing Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) and Part D Explanation of Benefits for incorrect charges. This could mean being charged for a service or product that wasn’t received; being billed twice for the same service or product; being charged for services or products that were not ordered by the beneficiary’s doctor.

If you suspect your loved one is a victim of Medicare fraud, contact the National Hispanic SMP for free assistance in Spanish: 1-866-488-7379.

Feliz Año Nuevo: New Resolutions for 2014

ae25c3c389bab00310e593f279cd83ca741d828dAs the end of 2013 draws near, people around the world are getting ready to celebrate a new year. While traditions vary in different cultures – from eating grapes to kissing a loved one at midnight – one common tradition that people across many cultures share is making resolutions for a fresh start. This year the NHCOA family encourages you to adopt some new resolutions that will not only improve your life, but the lives of those around you too, including our padres y abuelitos.

  1. Get tested for HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 4 people living with HIV don’t know they have it. One of the best ways we can achieve the goal of making an AIDS-free generation a reality is to stop the spread of HIV by practicing safe sex every time and getting tested for HIV regularly.
  2. Each year resolutions around weight-loss and increased gym attendance prevail. This year try adopting a healthy diet and doing physical activity, such as dancing or walking, in an effort to prevent or manage diabetes.
  3. Get vaccinated against the flu. The height of flu season arrives right after the new year, so it’s still not too late to get your vaccine. And while the flu vaccine may be one of the most well-known vaccines, you may need others. Discuss the vaccines you need with your doctor this year.
  4. Help fight Medicare fraud by becoming a volunteer for the National Hispanic SMP program. Scammers often target Hispanic older adults due to their unique vulnerabilities, including linguistic and cultural barriers, lower levels of formal education and social isolation. By getting involved with the NHSMP, you can help protect our padres y abuelitos from Medicare fraud and strengthen the program for future generations.
  5. Advocate for paid family leave in your state. Twenty years after the passage of the Family and Medicare Leave Act, only about 60 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid leave, putting a huge financial burden on new parents and those with sick family members.
  6. If you don’t have health insurance, sign up for a plan through the marketplace. NHCOA’s Navigators can help you as you decide which plan best meets your needs. In 2014, access to health insurance is no longer a privilege, but a right.

No matter the resolutions you pick, the NHCOA family wishes you a happy and healthy Near Year! Feel free to share your resolutions in the comments section below.