2016 | Q2 Newsletter | Q & A with Health Advisory Council Members
Dorothy Siemon, Esq.
Vice President, AARP Office of Policy Development and Integration
Q. Tell us about AARP’s mission.
A. AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social welfare organization with a membership of nearly 38 million whose mission is to help people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthen communities, and fight for the issues that matter most to families — such as health care, employment and income security, and protection from financial abuse.
AARP leads positive social change and delivers value to members through advocacy, service, and information to make things better for society and play a positive role in communities of all kinds. AARP’s public policies serve as the foundation of our work to fight for people 50-plus and help equip them to live their best lives.
Q. What do you love about your job?
A. I have been at AARP for a long time but in different roles. Prior to joining the Office of Policy Development and Integration in 2007, I was a senior litigation attorney for more than 10 years for the AARP Foundation, writing amicus briefs in federal and state courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, I served as counsel in class action cases involving Medicare, Medicaid, and long-term care facilities. In 2007, I came to my current department as the director for health and long term care issues, and in 2014 I became vice president of the department.
Working as a litigation attorney is very different from working on policy development. I really enjoyed both functions. The litigation work is often about narrowing the issues to resolve the dispute about the law in that particular case; while policy development allows for much more expansive thinking about what is possible, not just what is legally required. It is a different mindset but both are very interesting and challenging.
Q. What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing AARP today?
A. AARP’s membership represents nearly 38 million Americans age 50 and over. Our members span four generations and reflect a wide range of attitudes, cultures, and lifestyles. A growing number of them work full- or part-time because they want to or must. They are business owners, entrepreneurs, teachers, caregivers, and community leaders. Some are at the peak of their earning years with comfortable standards of living, and others are living alone and struggling with minimal resources. AARP members have many of the same concerns as younger members of our society—particularly around financial security, health care, and the neighborhoods in which they live.
Our challenge is to reimagine the traditional model of aging and take advantage of the wisdom, experience, interests, and contributions that older Americans make to the social capital of the nation. We want an America where people 50-plus have access to the care, information, and services they need to lead healthier lives; have the financial resources and opportunities to match their longer life expectancy; and are seen as an integral and inspirational asset to society. We envision an America where bedrock programs like Social Security and Medicare remain strong for all older Americans, as well as their children and grandchildren.
Q. What AARP initiatives would you like to share with the Council?
A. The executive director of AARP, Jo Ann Jenkins, is taking on the challenge of reimagining the traditional model of aging. In her national bestselling book, Disrupt Aging, she suggests it’s time to redefine what it means to get older. She encourages us to re-think the negative stories we tell ourselves and each other about aging. The book chronicles Jo Ann’s journey as well as those of other fearless individuals working to change what it means to age in America. Disrupt Aging shows us how to embrace opportunity and change the way society looks at getting older.
In addition AARP has a major campaign pressing the presidential candidates to Take A Stand – and lay out their plan to update Social Security so it’s financially sound with adequate benefits.
Relating to the Council’s work, AARP is extremely concerned by high and growing prescription drug costs. Older Americans use more prescription drugs than any other segment of the population—nearly two-thirds use three or more on a regular basis. AARP continues to advocate at the state and federal level to help reduce prescription drug spending while still maintaining appropriate patient access, and recently joined the Campaign for Sustainable Drug Pricing, a broad coalition working to lower drug costs. In addition, AARP’s Public Policy Institute produces an Rx Price Watch Report that tracks price changes among over 600 widely used prescription drugs. One recent report found that the average annual cost for one widely used specialty drug reached more than $53,000 per year in 2013.
Q. What does AARP value about membership in NCL’s Health Advisory Council?
A. Bringing the consumer perspective of individuals who are 50 and older to the Council.
For example, AARP is active in promoting and supporting consumers to play a more active role in their health and health care decision-making. Greater consumer involvement can be an important component to achieving a health care system aimed at better care, better health, and lower costs (referred to as the Triple Aim). The Health Advisory Council bringing together a wide range of organizations, experts, and stakeholders provides an excellent opportunity to highlight new ideas and approaches and stimulate thinking around new solutions in this area.
Director of Alliance Development, Merck
Q. What is your role at Merck?
A. I am the director of alliance development at Merck in our Federal Policy and Government Relations office. In this role, I serve as the Merck liaison to patient groups and third party stakeholders on federal policy-related issues.
Q. What would you like Council members to know about Merck?
A. Merck is an innovative, global health care leader that is committed to improving health and well-being around the world. Our core product categories include diabetes, cancer, vaccines, and infectious disease. We continue to focus our research on conditions that represent some of today’s most significant health challenges – like cancer, Hepatitis C, cardio-metabolic disease, antibiotic-resistant infections, and Alzheimer's disease, and we are on the front lines in the fight against emerging global pandemics, such as Ebola. We also devote extensive time and energy to increasing access to medicines and vaccines through far-reaching programs that donate and deliver our products to the people who need them around the world.
Q. Tell us about some of your current initiatives.
A. Merck has a long tradition of discovering, developing, and delivering treatments to address the most urgent medical needs of patients around the globe. For example, in response to the Ebola crisis that started in 2014, Merck joined with the international health community in efforts to eliminate the Ebola outbreak and put necessary steps in place to help prevent another. In late 2014, Merck licensed from NewLink Genetics Corporation a promising vaccine candidate to prevent Ebola Zaire virus. Merck is now collaborating with others to advance this vaccine candidate to licensure as quickly as possible. It is currently being evaluated in Phase 1, 2, and 3 clinical studies in sites across the world, including three ongoing large-scale Phase 2/3 studies. If the vaccine candidate is licensed, Merck will use our manufacturing capacity and considerable experience with the technology to work with stakeholders to make it available rapidly and effectively to the population at risk. In December 2015, Merck announced that the application for Emergency Use Assessment and Listing (EUAL) for the investigational vaccine has been accepted for review by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Q. What is Merck doing to change the way people think about and approach health care?
A. Merck collaborates with leading health care organizations to develop innovative health solutions and support for patients and their caregivers. Our consumer website, MerckEngage.com, offers ideas and tools to help people make healthy choices, have better conversations with their health care providers, and stay on track with treatments. We have joined with multiple stakeholder organizations to address the serious public health problem of medication non-adherence, and we support the development of improved evidence-based interventions that can lead to improved adherence. For example, Merck’s outcomes research led to the development of the Adherence Estimator®, a one-minute, evidence-based assessment tool that can help health care providers identify patients at risk for non-adherence.
Q. What do you value about membership in NCL’s Health Advisory Council?
A. The Health Advisory Council is a wonderful opportunity for Merck to engage and partner with a diverse group of organizations on important issues relating to health policy. We look forward to continuing our participation in the Council to help create better consumer education and empowerment and on health-related policy.
Q. Tell us about some of your partnerships.
A. Merck has been a long-standing supporter of NCL’s Script Your Future campaign. We have been very pleased with the collaboration, as we believe in the power of community-based education and awareness-building of the importance of medication adherence. Merck is also collaborating with the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) to develop American Medical Association-approved training for medical students and residents around communication and adherence intervention strategies that meet the new Liaison Committee on Medical Education guidelines for communications training.