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The President Drives the 2015 White House Conference on Aging.

Posted on | July 15, 2015 | 2 Comments

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Mike Magee

If summertime is normally marked by a sleepy Washington news cycle, than 2015 will stand out for many years as a distinct anomaly. Between marriage equality, the trade agreement, the survival of the Affordable Care Act, and now the Iran agreement, it would be very easy to miss other notable events that have occurred.

One such event was the just completed 2015 White House Conference on Aging. By all accounts, the participants saw it as a major success. In addressing the gathering, President Obama set the context in noting that this year marks the 80th anniversary of the passage of Social Security and the 50th anniversary of the passage of Medicare.

Seemingly, everyone was there from Diane Nyad to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known, according to the President as “the Notorious R.B.G.”. That label, which drew laughter and applause, was representative of a growing respect and strong embrace of aging Americans who remain active, engaged, and contributory members in a dynamic American society.

The President took the opportunity to speak about the future of Social Security and Medicare. He said that the critics who said that the two programs were “in crisis”, were wrong. Specifically, he said, “Medicare and Social Security are not in crisis, nor have they kept us from cutting our deficits by two-thirds since I took office.  Both programs are facing challenges because of the demographic trends I just talked about.  And for Medicare, that means we’ve got to keep slowing the growth of health care costs, and keep building on the progress we’ve already made in the past few years.”

Speaking quite directly to health providers of all shapes and sizes in the audience, the President tied Medicare and Social Security to his controversial, and increasingly popular, signature health legislation. In his words, “Since I signed the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — (applause) — since we signed the ACA into law, we’ve extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 13 years.  We’re moving Medicare towards payment models that require quality of care instead of quantity of care as the measure of what you get paid, creating a different set of incentives.  And that’s something that will keep older Americans healthy and Medicare healthy as well.”

As for specifics derived in part from the ACA, he listed these:

1. “We’ve extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 13 years.”

2. “…we’re moving Medicare towards payment models that require quality of care instead of quantity of care as the measure of what you get paid, creating a different set of incentives.”

3. “… this law has saved over 9 million people on Medicare currently more than $15 billion on their prescriptions… Built into the Affordable Care Act, 9 million seniors have gotten significant discounts on their prescription drugs.”

4. “It’s also given nearly 40 million people on Medicare free preventive health services.  And we’ve expanded the options for home- and community-based services offered by Medicaid, which means that more older Americans are able to make the same choice that my grandmother did and live independently.”

In laying out the challenges ahead, and next steps, the President sounded anything but the lame duck. Here are a few of the priorities on his “To-Do” list:

1. Clean up the nation’s retirement plans. The President wants a system that would automatically establish IRA’s for all new workers when they begin employment. He also wants to shed light on the financial industry’s “hidden fees” which explain why so many Americans retirement investments funds never to seem to grow.

2. He wants to reauthorize the Older Americans Act which coordinates aging organizations nationwide and a range of services including nutrition, job training, senior centers, caregiver support, transportation, health promotion, and benefits enrollment. It’s reauthorization ran out in 2011.

3. He wants to push harder for workplace flexibility and family leave provisions especially for family members who are serving as family caregivers.

4. He wants to expand nutritional assistance for seniors living independently.

5. He wants to update nursing home safety and quality measures, and expand prosecution for elder abuse.

In taking the time in a summer schedule that has been jammed with monumental legislative events, the President is acknowledging the critical importance and the realities of aging demographics and aging influence. The recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index noted as much, reporting that those over 55 score higher that those under 55 in the survey, but those over 75 eclipse everyone.

Others have noted why this is likely the case listing contributors like “productive engagement, social connection, healthy diet, exercise/physical fitness, adequate sleep, financial management, spiritual well-being”.

For the President, he emphasized the government’s role, and in the process, his own contributions. As he put it, “So one of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens.  And by that measure, the United States has a lot to be proud of.  Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security are some of our greatest triumphs as a nation.  When Social Security was signed into law, far too many seniors were living in poverty.  When Medicare was created, only a little more than half of all seniors had some form of insurance. Before Medicaid came along, families often had no help paying for nursing home costs. Today, the number of seniors in poverty has fallen dramatically.  Every American over 65 has access to affordable health care.  And, by the way, since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the uninsured rate for all Americans has fallen by about one-third.  (Applause.)  Just thought I’d mention that.  (Applause.)”

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.

Comments

2 Responses to “The President Drives the 2015 White House Conference on Aging.”

  1. John manley
    July 23rd, 2015 @ 2:15 am

    Great blog about the white house conference.

  2. Mike Magee
    July 24th, 2015 @ 5:31 pm

    Many thanks, John!

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