Strengthening legislation that can help seniors age in place and reduce the risk of spending down their finances are key issues Congress must address to help older adults in 2014, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
Estimating that one-quarter of voters this November will be over age 65, NCOA is urging Congress to consider several legislative actions that would improve seniors’ chances of staying independent and aging healthily at home.
The first measure NCOA presses Congress to address involves the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA) to restore funding and modernize aging services for seniors.
“Senior services are facing a double whammy—funding has not kept up with inflation or the growing population of seniors and the federal budget sequester has caused even deeper cuts,” said NCOA in a statement.
The OAA funds programs that include senior nutrition, prevention, caregiver support and transportation.
“The OAA is overdue for reauthorization—an opportunity to strengthen the bill for today’s older population,” stated NCOA.
Second, NCOA urges Congress to protect low-income Medicare beneficiaries to help more seniors afford doctor visits under the Medicare Qualified Individual (QI) program.
The QI program pays Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries with incomes that are 120-135% of poverty, or about $13,700-$15,300 per year.
“This year, momentum is building to permanently fix Medicare physician payments,” said NCOA. “Congress should make the QI program permanent at the same time and fund outreach to help low-income seniors access this and other benefits.”
Part of helping America’s seniors maintain their independence while living at home also has to do with renewing the Farm Bill to help fight senior hunger, according to NCOA.
“The Farm Bill renewal is poised to boost funding for the nation’s food banks, transition the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to a seniors-only program, and test using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for nonprofit grocery delivery programs for seniors,” NCOA said.
SNAP has been plagued with a series of funding cuts as of late. In November, the program faced an $11 billion cut and a recent proposal looks to eliminate as much as $8.6 billion in benefits to the program.
A fourth consideration NCOA asks of Congress introduces the need for long-term care legislation to provide affordable options for seniors in paying for long-term services and supports.
The demand for such legislation, NCOA suggests, will increase as the need for these types of services will more than double as the Baby Boomer generation ages and begins to require long-term care.
“The current system places enormous burdens on family caregivers and forces seniors to spend-down their life savings into poverty before getting help from Medicaid,” said NCOA.
The Council also suggests such legislation to improve the nation’s current long-term care system can ultimately produce significant savings to the Medicaid program, as a new system would help seniors finance their long-term care needs and lessen Medicaid utilization as a result.
Lastly, NCOA urges Congreses to consider immigration reform, as it would help strengthen the direct care workforce, 20-23% of which are foreign-born, according to NCOA data.
“Direct care workers provide home care and other services that allow seniors to stay independent,” said NCOA. “Reform also would produce economic benefits to Medicare and Social Security by increasing the number of younger workers paying into these funds.”
Written by Jason Oliva