A1 A1
Soto building support for H.R. 3
  • Updated

If you were to ask senior citizens what their biggest concerns were, high prescription drug prices would likely be a popular answer. U.S. Rep. Darren Soto believes he has a way to alleviate some of those concerns, with H.R. 3, which allows Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for better prices.

“I was proud to co-sponsor and vote for H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now act when it passed last term,” Soto said. “The senate didn’t pass it. We have to work on it this time.”

Soto, the representative from District 9, which covers Osceola County and parts of Orange and Polk counties, appeared at an online news conference with the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans on Monday, to talk about the 2021 version of H.R. 3, or the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

“The biggest thing it does is gives Medicare the power to negotiate directly with the drug companies,” he said. “This is what the VA health system and Medicaid already does. This is what normally those of us who believe in the free market urge to happen to get the best prices for our seniors.”

Barbara DeVane, with the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, said Americans pay three times as much for name-brand prescription drugs as the rest of the world and she was supporting the bill to put seniors in the state on a level playing field with the rest of the world.

The bill would prevent companies from charging more than “120% of the average price in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom.”

Soto said the bill wouldn’t just save money for Medicare recipients, but would serve all Americans.

“Negotiation for Medicare would already be a huge thing, the fact that it applies to all private insurance means that every American with private insurance can enjoy the lower drug prices and it allows us to stop getting ripped off compared to other countries,” he said. “We pay by far the most in the world. We have a lot of innovation and that’s a good thing but it doesn’t mean we should have your average American on Medicare get ripped off.”

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America adamantly opposes the bill, saying it will have a negative impact on the industry’s ability to develop new drugs.

“The American people want to end the pandemic, get the economy back on track and make health care more affordable and predictable,” Stephen J. Ubl, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said in a statement when the bill was reintroduced last month. “Instead, House leaders have introduced the same old divisive drug pricing proposal that will put more barriers between patients and their medicines. It will also destroy an estimated one million American jobs, cede our leadership in life sciences, and stifle the development of new treatments, while failing to address the broader challenges facing patients.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also opposed the bill, saying it could see 23,300 lost jobs in the state of Florida.

But Soto said it doesn’t make any sense for Americans to be paying more money than others for the exact same drug, when so many people are having a tough time paying for their prescriptions now and the fact that H.R. 3 will cap the out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions to $2,000 for Medicare participants.

“Another key part is it creates a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries,” Soto said. “This is key. So many of my constituents, seniors, who are drawing social security, maybe drawing a small pension, they run out of money by the end of the month so they have to cut their medications in half, in quarters, waiting for that Social Security check to come in next month. This is very dangerous. This puts seniors at risk health-wise. It is a travesty that seniors end up having too many out-of-pocket expenses. That cap is going to be really important.”

Lakeshore Mall POD closing Saturday
  • Updated

SEBRING — After the last person is inoculated on Saturday, the Highlands County Board of County Commission will close the doors on the Lakeshore Mall Point of Distribution (POD) for COVID-19 vaccines. The POD, located in the former JCPenney store has served as a central location for those seeking the vaccine since the new year began. The Lakeshore Mall POD will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Walk-ins will be taken.

Those who were on the fence or waiting to get the vaccine can still get one at other locations throughout the county. The Florida Department of Health listed the second dose of Moderna shots at its local sites. For an appointment on one of the dates and times, call 863-382-7260 or 863-382-7270. Those dates and locations are: Sebring DOH at 7205 S. George Blvd. – May 25 from 9:30-11 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m.; Avon Park DOH located at 400 S. Lake Ave. – today from 9:30-11 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m.; Lake Placid DOH site at 106 N. Main Ave. – May 25 9:30-11 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m.

A second consent form can be filled out at the POD or printed at home and brought with you. The county’s website is highlandsfl.gov.

Those who are homebound can call 866-779-6121 to the Florida Department of Health to arrange for a vaccine or submit a request online by going to the county’s website and following the link – highlandsfl.gov/vaccine_information/. Caregivers can also call or submit online.

HCBoCC stated a photo ID is required and if you are getting the second shot, bring the vaccination card.

The Hands for Homeless organization will be hosting a vaccine event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 20 at 7 Jim Rodgers Ave. in Avon Park. Organizer Judy Booth said both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be given to those 12 years of age and up. No appointment is necessary. If you are going for the second shot, make sure you have your vaccine card to ensure the correct shot is given. More information can be found by calling Booth at 863-212-8941.

AdventHealth Sebring Prompt Care at 4421 Sun ‘N Lake Blvd. Suite B. is also taking appointments for Moderna vaccines by calling 863-382-9600. They will be giving first and second doses to those 18 years of age and older. Weather depending, the vaccines will be done in a drive-thru style. Appointments are available Wednesdays – 7-8 a.m., noon-1 p.m. and 5-6 p.m. and Sundays – noon-2 p.m. Upon request, their staff can visit businesses to vaccinate team members.

Retail pharmacies will continue to offer the vaccine at these locations, the county lists the following:

Winn-Dixie store 3250 at U.S. 27 S. in Sebring by appointment only. Call 863-471-1268 for an appointment.

Publix has started taking walk-ins at their pharmacies, according to their website. They are offering Johnson & Johnson when available and Moderna. Their locations are:

  • • Lake Placid, 586 U.S. 27 N.; phone number 863-699-2181.
  • • Southgate Sebring, 2848 U.S. 27 S Ste. 107; phone number is 863-314-8746.
  • • North Sebring, 3610 U.S. 27 N.; phone number is 863- 385-5523.

Other retail pharmacies are taking some walk-ins as well as appointments. Call for the best option.

At Walgreens, call for appointments:

  • • Avon Park at 93 U.S. 27 S., phone number is 863-453-0222.
  • • Lake Placid at 2 U.S. 27 S. phone number 863-465-1178.
  • • Sebring at 3027 U.S. 27 S., Phone number 863-385-9929.
  • • Sebring at 3619 U.S. 27 N., phone number 863-402-5624.

For a CVS pharmacy:

  • Avon Park, 1105 W. Main St.; phone number 863-453-7505.
  • • Lake Placid, 5 U.S. 27 S.; phone number 863-465-4810.
  • • Sebring, 2728 U.S. 27 S.; phone number 863-385-2525.

For Walmart pharmacies:

  • • Avon Park, 1041 U.S. 27 N.; phone number 863-452-5159.
  • • Sebring, 3525 U.S. 27 N.; phone number 863-385-3373.

Couple Fulfills Dream; Traveling and Living on a Sailboat
  • Updated

Editor’s note: Sebring residents Mike and Gloria Peters spent 20 years living on a sailboat and traveling in the Caribbean. They recently recounted the story of their travels to this correspondent. This is the first of three articles.

In 1996, Mike and Gloria Peters were living in the town of Golfview in west Palm Beach County, Florida. The Palm Beach International Airport wanted to buy the town which bordered the northwest corner of the airport, and officials made the Peters an offer.

Since 1994, Mike and Gloria had dreamed of buying a sailboat and traveling to destinations in the Caribbean. They wanted to enjoy the pristine beauty, lush greenery, clear blue waters, underwater attractions, and solitude of the sea’s islands, reefs, coves, and bays. They also wanted to learn about the indigenous people who still live in the more remote areas. This seemed to be an opportune moment to fulfill their dream.

They were 52 years old and in good health. Mike was the manager of an auto dealership; Gloria was the manager of a bank (today, she is chair of the Highlands Art League board). Their two sons and their daughter were grown, married and raising their own families. So why wait until they were retired to enjoy the greatest adventure of their lives?

“I had my heart set on traveling to the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama,” Gloria said. “I had recently read a fascinating article about the Kuna Indians, indigenous people who have inhabited these beautiful islands for centuries. I was intrigued by the prospect of meeting them and learning about their culture.”

Boating had long been the Peters’ avocation. They owned a 30-foot power boat, one of many they had owned since 1971, and loved to travel to the Bahamas to swim, fish and snorkel.

“Gloria suggested I retire first and search for a blue water sailboat that could meet our need for permanent living space and also could handle any rough seas. I did a lot of research. In Annapolis, Maryland, I found Windfree, a BABA 40-cutter rigged sloop with a diesel engine,” Mike said

The boat needed some repairs. “I had to have some engine work done, some new batteries installed, and the leaking steel fuel tank replaced with an aluminum one. Then I hired a captain to help me take Windfree to West Palm Beach. There, more work had to be done. When everything was ready, Gloria retired and we moved in,” Mike explained.

The Peters decided to give Windfree a good shakedown to make sure the boat could handle the extensive travels they had planned, so they sailed to the Bahamas and stayed for a year. They returned with a list of items they knew they needed to make it a better sailboat for cruising and for permanent living. Mike recalled the list.

“The boat’s manual called for a 45-pound anchor, but we decided to use a 60-pound anchor, attached to 300 feet of 3/8-inch chain. We wanted to be sure that the boat wouldn’t drag in a storm. If faced with more severe weather, like a hurricane, we had a second (45-pound) anchor which we could line up behind the first anchor, separating the two by about 25 feet of chain. The added weight would assure that the first anchor and chain would stay securely in place.

“We bought two GPS systems to accompany our maps, paper charts, and compasses. Much later, we would add a chart plotter.

“We purchased a single side band radio and later had a program installed that enabled us to get digital reports from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), including the location of fronts and the strength of winds. We pulled up those reports twice a day.

“The radio also enabled us to communicate with other boats or ‘cruisers,’ as they were called. We made friends with the owners of several boats and even arranged meet-ups at some destinations.

“We installed a 6.5-kilowatt Northern Lights generator on the boat. We used it to run a large water maker that could make 20 gallons of water/hour. It operated by reverse osmosis, filtering salt and bacteria out of the sea water.

“The generator also kept the big holding plates on the back wall and the front wall of the freezer cold enough that the freezer could produce ice. We also put a holding plate on the refrigerator to keep those items cold.

“We made sure we would always have a three-month supply of provisions on board, so that we wouldn’t have to stop at ports so often to replenish our supplies.”

“In case of emergencies, we got a six-man life raft and a 10-foot tender with a 15-horsepower outboard engine.”

In late May 1998, the Peters set sail on the more than 2,000 mile journey from Florida to the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. On the way, they would stop for days, weeks or months at destinations off the coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Colombia.

But the first step was getting from Florida’s Dry Tortugas to Mexico’s Isla Mujeres, a small island where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean meet. This would be a round-the-clock, 300-mile, non-stop passage in open waters.

Because Windfree was a heavy, deep draft sailing vessel, the Peters could travel only 6-7 knots/hour. They were also traveling against the Gulf Stream current. So they took turns navigating the boat in four- to six-hour shifts. The trip took three days, but they arrived without incident.

Highlights of the Peters’ adventures in the Caribbean are the subject of the next article.

County's COVID cases, hospitalizations remain low
  • Updated

Highlands County continued with low COVID-19 numbers on Monday. The new cases of coronavirus show just 10 people testing positive when Monday’s update was released by the Florida Department of Health. There have only been 11 new cases since Sunday started the week; they have all been from residents.

Tuesday’s cases brought the cumulative cases to 8,675 infections. Of those infections, 8,578 were from residents and 97 cases were from non-residents.

There were no new deaths reported, the death toll remains at 361 people whose deaths were blamed on COVID.

One blip on an otherwise good report was the positivity rate. Monday’s rate was 8.77%, considerably higher than Sunday’s 2.2%. There were only 114 tests processed with 104 negative results.

Hospitalizations rose by one admission to 668. The Agency for Health Care Administration showed 16 people hospitalized as of Monday afternoon. The state showed 2,443 people hospitalized for the same time period.

The daily median age was 43 and the overall median age remained at 50.

The state of Florida added 1,976 cases since Sunday. There were 2,293,980 in all on Monday. Dividing the cases into two categories had 2,251,148 resident infections and 42,832 non-resident infections.

There were 59 deaths including one non-resident. Florida’s total deaths due to COVID are now 36,857.

The state processed 45,033 tests with 43,044 negative results. The positivity rate was 4.4%

Vaccinations are slowing down a bit in the United States, while going strong in the rest of the world, where the current estimate is 24.5 million doses per day, according to Bloomberg. An estimated 1.48 billion doses have been administered in 176 different counties.

Vaccine data is a bit more reliable in the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting a seven-day average of 1.62 million doses given per day. The total number of people vaccinated with at least one dose is 157.1 million, which is 47.3% of the U.S. population and 56.1% of those over the age of 12. Among seniors, 84.5% have received at least one vaccine dose.

As more young people in the U.S. test positive, the CDC is actively promoting the vaccine in the 12 to 15 range.

“Vaccinating adolescents is an important step toward stopping the spread of COVID-19,” the CDC wrote in its latest weekly review. “Yet, adolescent vaccination has been met with mixed reactions, with some parents eager to vaccinate their children against COVID-19, and others expressing hesitancy. Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was found to be safe and effective in adolescents between the ages of 12-15 years in clinical trials.”

Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the U.S. has seen a total of 32.95 million cases and had 586,216 deaths.

Globally, there have been 163.2 million cases and 3.38 million deaths.