By Spencer Blohm
The White House Addresses Aging: Is It Enough?
On July 13th, President Obama hosted the White House Conference on Aging. This conference, which takes place once every decade, was an opportunity for members of government and those in the private sector to get together to discuss the challenges facing the growing number of elderly Americans.
This conference was of particular importance as the Baby Boomer generation is approaching an older age. With such a large population of people about to reach senior citizen status, the government is certainly feeling the pressure, especially given the challenges facing the Medicare and Social Security systems. Naturally, this was one of the first things President Obama addressed, announcing his healthcare bill and further changes to Medicare and Medicaid, including expanded coverage allowing seniors to receive care in their home or communities and allowing them to age in place. It’s a particularly important move on the government’s behalf considering an estimated 2.5 million home healthcare aids will be needed to meet the growing demand by 2030.
Building off changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the President also announced new government and private sector initiatives to combat dementia. The Department of Health and Human Services shared that they were updating and creating curriculum to help the healthcare workforce better understand and care for those with dementia. They also announced an update on the National Alzheimer’s Project Act to reflect the steps made and steps they wish to make in the future, on the way to finding a cure.
In addition to providing care for those who wish to remain at home, the conference also placed an emphasis on technology that will help seniors live a full life while remaining at home. The launch of Aging.gov was of particular importance as it’s an information resource not only for seniors but those who care for them. The private sector was also focused on as a resource for aging Americans. They praised services and companies like Peapod’s grocery delivery program, Walgreen’s telehealth services and other services from companies not present like ADT’s home security and automation services. The combination of private and public sector minds working together showed to many that both sides acknowledge this isn’t a fight that either one can fight alone. Hopefully we’ll all benefit from it.
Another move to engage the private sector came from the President’s plea to companies to engage in best practices in regards to retirement and savings for their employees. He gave many noteworthy figures, but one can’t help but notice little action on the government’s behalf to actually make this a reality, rather than simply a suggestion. They did, however, announce the launch of myRA (my Retirement Account) by the Department of Treasury, a simple and free savings option for those without workplace retirement plans.
Of course, many in retirement are also dependent on Social Security, and it was a big question that loomed over the President as it’s also the program’s 80th anniversary this year. There was no mention of the proposed cuts to the program that have stirred many. Instead the President offered a bit of reassurance, stating “Now, we’re often told that Medicare and Social Security are in crisis. We hear that all the time. And usually, that’s used as an excuse to try to cut spending on those bedrock programs. But here’s the truth. Medicare and Social Security are not in crisis, nor have they kept us from cutting our deficits by two-thirds since I took office.” So, it would seem that you can rest easy over social security for the time being.
While nothing groundbreaking was announced from either the private or public sectors, the needs of the growing demographic of elderly citizens was fully acknowledged on both sides. The programs and initiatives discussed certainly showed steps in the right direction, but we all know more change is needed on all sides, to properly address the specific needs of the elderly. Hopefully this will mark just the start of more initiatives on both sides for just that.
Spencer Blohm is a freelance writer with a special interest in the growing importance of technology in the medical industry. He lives and works in Chicago where he lives vicariously through the variety of articles he writes.