Kleyman Gives Post Mortem Report on 2015 WHCoA

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 17, 2016

In 1958, Rhode Island Congressman John E. Fogarty, a former bricklayer, introduced legislation calling for a White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) to “promote the dignity, health and economic security of older Americans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the enacted legislation and the first conference was held in 1961, with subsequent conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, 2005 and 2015.

Looking back, the 1961 WHCoA played a major role in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, even the Older Americans Act. Ten years later, the conference’s recommendation’s for automatic cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security ultimately became law in 1975. The founding of the Senate Aging Committee came from recommendations at the 1971 WHCoA.

A Year Marked with Anniversaries

The one-day 2015 WHCoA (usually three days) was actually held at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but with a much smaller assembly than in previous years at Washington hotels, such as in 1995, which had 2,221 delegates and 2005, where about 1,100 selected delegates gathered. But his time, new technologies allowed others to tune in. The White House could only accommodate a few hundred dignitaries.

Over 700 watch parties were held in every state and thousands of people tuned in on Monday, July 13, 2015, to watch the day-long proceedings by live webcast. Over 9,000 people participated, too, through social media on Twitter and Facebook.

But, Paul Kleyman, editor of the Generations Beat Online (GBONews.org), a E-Newsletter for age beat journalist, noted in the Jan. 17, 2016 issue, that this year’s aging conference had no delegate selection process like previous ones. “As we’ve noted previously, though, more than one expert expressed disappointment that the Obama Administration made little effort to muster bipartisan support among GOP congressional members who might well have wanted some representation on the issue going into the 2016 election season. Historically, governors and members of Congress got to pick local constituents in fields from retirement finance to health services with a prestigious delegate appointment to the conference,” says the seasoned journalist who served as a delegate at the 1995 WHCoA.

A Call for an Expansion of Social Security

The WHCoA’s scheduled date in 2015 fell in the year where advocates in aging celebrated the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Kleyman notes that the newly released 34 page WHCoA report (with 49 pages of appendices) says, “The 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) provided an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key programs as well as to look ahead to the next decade.”

President Obama was sent a letter with 74 Congressional cosigners reminding him that over half of today’s older workers are not expected to be able to have sufficient resources upon their retirement to maintain their current standard of living. Although they called for an expansion of Social Security, Kleyman says discussion was “barely audible” at the aging conference.

In addressing the WHCoA attendees, Obama called for “keeping Social Security strong, protecting its future solvency,” pledging to fight “privatization of the program. Kleyman observed that proposed new rules to help workers increase their retirement “stopped short of supporting stronger benefits that they need.”

It’s a Mixed Bag

But, Kleyman says that aging advocates consider the WHCoA’s recommendations a mixed bag. In his E-newsletter article, he references a Jan. 6, 2015 blog penned by Kevin Prindiville who serves as executive director of Justice in Aging. “The report details piecemeal public actions and private initiatives, but ignores the opportunity to lay out an ambitious policy proposal to address pressing systemic challenges,” he says.

Kleyman also zeros in on Prindiville’s observations as to why this year’s WHCoA was of the scaled down. He observed, “To those who followed the WHCOA closely, this was not a surprise. Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, and the lack of appropriate funding for the conference, meant WHCOA organizers had to produce a conference without a budget. With little infrastructure and support, the White House did not propose any new big, bold ideas to prepare for a population that is literally booming.”

Kleyman says that attendees were pleased to see a recommendation calling for improving the quality and safety requirements in the nation’s 15,000 long-term care facilities and a proposal to allow low-income and frail home bound elders and people with disabilities to use food stamps for meals on wheels.

Meanwhile, attendees were told at this event that physicians would be paid starting in 2016 to counsel patients about their end-of-life care, adds Kleyman, noting that recommendations did not address the nation’s increasing diversity.  Yet, there was no discussion on hospice and palliative care, affordable senior housing issues, and little discussion of elder abuse, the need for adequate transportation and long-term care, he says.

See You in 2025

According to the Census Bureau, in 2050, the 65-and-older population will be 83.7 million, almost double of what it was in 2012. The 2015 WHCoA conference has taken place with a skyrocketing older population, referred to as the “Graying of America.” Can this year’s conference provide policy makers with a road map to shape the delivery of services for years to come? As Kleyman says, probably not. “So it goes, at least until 2025,” he says.

 

President’s Budget Addresses Issues of Interest to Seniors

Published in Pawtucket Times on February 27, 2015
President Obama released his 141 page ‘policy and wish list” when he unveiled his politically ambitious FY 2016 budget on Feb 2, not having to worry about running for president in the upcoming 2016 presidential election cycle.

Yes, even inside the Washington Beltway a picture is truly worth a thousand words. Gone is the budget’s plain blue cover replaced by a black and white photo of the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, an image that projects one of the President’s spending priorities of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure to create jobs and improve the transportation system.

The $4 trillion presidential budget, a political campaign document outlaying his policies and priorities, would cancel automatic sequestration cuts to domestic and military programs over a 10 year period. According to the New York Times, Obama’s budget proposal would add $6 trillion to the national debt, and the single-year deficit would rise to $687 billion by 2025.

Obama’s FY 2016 budget puts more funding into education, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, increased defense spending, along with providing tax relief for America’s middle class while increasing the taxes for corporate America and the wealthy. Political insiders say that Obama’s budget, one that gives to the middle class and assesses higher taxes from corporate America and the wealthy, sets the issues to be surely debated in the upcoming presidential election. .

A Look at Aging Priorities

On her Feb. 3 blog post, Nora Super, executive director of the upcoming White House Conference on Aging, details how the recently released budget proposal will “ensure that older Americans enjoy not only longer but healthier lives.”

As to retirement security, Super notes that the Obama Administration strongly opposes any legislative measures that would privatize the nation’s Social Security program, or slash benefits for future generations or reduce basic benefits to current beneficiaries. Super says that half the nation’s workforce, that’s about 78 million, does not have a retirement savings plan at work. “Fewer than 10 percent of those without plans at work contribute to a plan of their own. The President’s FY 2016 Budget expands retirement opportunities for all Americans to help families save and give them better choices to reach a secure retirement,” she says.

According to Super, Obama’s Budget proposal supports healthy aging by strengthening the Medicare program by “aligning payments with the costs of providing care, along with encouraging health care providers to deliver better care and better outcomes for their patients, and improving access to care for beneficiaries.”

To put the brakes to rising prescription drug costs, Super notes that the President’s Budget proposes to close the Medicare Part D donut hole for brand drugs by 2017, rather than 2020, by increasing discounts from the pharmaceutical industry. The Budget proposal also gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services new authority to negotiate with drug manufacturers on prices for high cost drugs and biologics covered under the Part D program.

Linking nutrition to healthy aging, Super says that Obama’s Budget provides “over $874 million for Nutrition Services programs, a $60 million increase over the 2015 enacted level, allowing States to provide 208 million meals to over 2 million older Americans nation-wide, helping to halt the decline in service levels for the first time since 2010.” Also, Obama’s budget ratchets up funding for supportive housing for very low-income elderly households, including frail elderly, to give these individuals access to human services, she adds. .

Protecting older persons from elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, Super blogs that the President’s budget proposal includes $25 million in discretionary resources for Elder Justice Act programs authorized under the Affordable Care Act. “Funding will “improve detection and reporting of elder abuse; grants to States to pilot a new reporting system; and funding to support a coordinated Federal research portfolio to better understand and prevent the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable adults,” she says.

Here’s Super’s take on the Obama budgetary blueprint: “Taken together, these and other initiatives in the Budget will help to change the aging landscape in America to reflect new realities and new opportunities for older Americans, and they will support the dignity, independence, and quality of life of older Americans at a time when we’re seeing a huge surge in the number of older adults.”

In a released statement, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond gives thumbs to the president’s efforts to “lower the cost of prescription drugs, promote better care, reward improved outcomes and make health care programs more efficient and less wasteful.” She also expresses her nonprofit group’s support for the President’s budgetary priorities to “create opportunities for the middle class” and his goal “to make saving for retirement easier.”

But, LeaMond expresses concerns that higher premiums, deductibles and copays might shift costs to older Americans. “As the federal deficit continues shrinking, we must find responsible solutions for strengthening critical programs and improving the retirement and overall economic security of current and future generations. We must also look for savings throughout the entire health care system, as the rising cost of health care threatens people of all ages,” she says.

In his statement, President/CEO Max Richtman, of the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, agrees with LeaMond’s concerns of higher premiums, deductible’s and co pays, too. “While some tout increasing means testing in Medicare as a way to insure ‘rich’ seniors pay their share, the truth is, the middle-class will take this hit as well,” he predicts.

Political pundits say that Obama’s 2016 budget was dead-on arrival at Capitol Hill the day it was released at the beginning of February. In the shadow of the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th Anniversary of Social Security, GOP leadership in both chambers of Congress must work with the Democratic President to hammer out a bipartisan compromise. Putting budgetary proposals that strengthens the nation’s programs and services for older Americans on the chopping block for purely political reasons is not acceptable, especially to a nation that opposes political gridlock.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Conference on Aging Planned for Summer 2015

Published in Pawtucket Times, December 5, 2015

It seems that aging advocates will have many celebrations to attend throughout 2015. This year is the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Last July, the White House announced the scheduling this summer of the White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA). This once-in-a-decade is an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key federal programs as well as to look ahead to the issues that will help shape the quality of life for older Americans for the next decade.

With Nora Super named as the Conference’s new Executive Director in July combined with its website up and running in October, planning for the event is gearing up.

A Look Back

The first White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) was held in 1961, with following conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, and 2005. Over the past 40 years, professionals in the aging network have viewed these decennial conferences to be catalysts for development of aging policy. The conferences generated ideas and ultimately political momentum to establish or make significant improvements to many of the nation’s domestic programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Acts and even to Social Security.

The four-day 2005 WHCoA was geared to provide the nation’s73 million baby boomers plan for their decades in retirement. That year, Pre-WHOCoA Forums (listening, solutions and mini conferences) were held around the country, to develop proposed solutions to the challenges of aging and the Main Conference itself, ultimately resulted in 73 resolutions with 50 of them being presented to the president and Congress.

Ten years ago, Governors of all 50 States, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Territories, Members of the 109th Congress, the National Congress of American Indians and the Policy Committee, selected 1,200 bipartisan delegates. At press time, delegate selection details have not been announced. But, like previous Conferences, I expect that incoming Governor, Gina Raimondo, to have some slots to appoint. Stay tuned.

In the past, processes for the five conferences were created by federal statute with the form and structure directed by Congressional lawmakers through legislation authorizing the Older Americans Act. To date, a deeply divided Congress has not reauthorized this program, and the pending bill does not include a statutory requirement or framework for the 2015 conference.

WHCoA organizers say that without a Congressionally defined framework, the White House begins to plans, still strongly committed to hosting a White House Conference on Aging in 2015. The American public will be engaged and involved in developing the conference, they say, by utilizing technology, by using web tools and social media, can encourage the nation’s Baby Boomers and seniors to participate.
Super Takes the Reins

Nora Super, the executive director of the upcoming WHCoA, says on the event’s website, “the coming months will be a time for us to engage in a dialogue and build a shared vision on how to continue to maximize the contributions of Americans as we age, and how to advance priorities such as healthy aging, a secure retirement, accessing the services and supports older Americans need to remain in their communities, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect.”

Super, who has over 20 years working in the federal government, and a lobbyist for AARP and represented Kaiser Permanente’s eight regional Permanente Medical Groups, believes, “The White House Conference on Aging represents an important step in working to ensure that Americans throughout the lifespan have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, make choices about their daily lives, and participate fully in community life.”

According to Super, “the Conference is designed to assist the public and private sectors to be responsive to the needs of a diverse aging population and to promote the dignity and independence of and expand opportunities for current and future generations of older persons and their families.”
Listening session, beginning last July that will continue up to and during the Conference, have produced some common themes, including: retirement security; healthy aging; long-term services and supports to help older adults remain in their communities; and preventing financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect of older adults.

A Call for Participation

Sign up to receive regular updates and emails to stay informed. You will learn more about the planned WHCoA listening sessions, regional forums, webinars and opportunities for public engagement. Provide your thoughts as to what’s most important to you and your ideas for actions that can help to improve the lives of older Americans.

Don’t sit on the sidelines. Bring your comments to the table, especially share personal stories and life experiences about your aging, either from the frame of reference as an older adult or caregiver. Give your thoughts about the different federal programs that have enhanced the quality of your life or those family members, friends, and neighbors around you.

Last October, the WHCoA website, http://www.WhiteHouseConferenceOnAging.gov, was launched as a way to engage the public about aging issues. It provides regular updates on Conference activities, more important it serves as a way to easily provide your comments and input.

This columnist, writing for McKnight’s LTC News, one of the oldest trade publications covering the long-term care sector, covered the 1995 WHCoA for the prestigious publication. As a journalist it was an exciting assignment, to report on a national Conference that brought together aging advocates, long-term care providers, academicians, and researchers. This synergy ultimately would create formal resolutions to be shared with President William Clinton and Congress as to how to direct the nation’s resources and federal programs to better serve older Americans.

Summer 2015 kicks off the WHCoA. Hopefully, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs and RI AARP will be in the forefront to gather comments from Rhode Island’s Aging Baby Boomers and Seniors about aging issues and problems that impact them. Rhode Islanders must be at the table and have a voice at the nation’s most important aging conference.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.