Anna Maria Chávez and U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Discuss Navigating Critical Decisions to Age Well
In January, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging invited NCOA to discuss the staggering number of decisions Americans have to make – often on their own – as they age. I was excited to share with the Committee some insights on how older Americans are navigating the tough decisions, and how NCOA tools and solutions are helping.
Below is my opening statement, but it was followed by lively and informative conversation between the Committee and my fellow witnesses. I encourage you to watch the video of the full hearing.
“Chairwoman Collins, Ranking Member Casey, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today on behalf of the National Council on Aging. I am the Chief Strategy Officer and Senior Vice President for External Affairs at NCOA, the nation’s oldest aging advocacy organization.
“Life after 65 has changed dramatically since NCOA started in 1950. Where retirement once meant a few years of leisure buoyed by a secure pension, today’s older Americans have both the gift and challenge of planning for a bonus 20-30 years of life. Yet, few are prepared.
“Traditional defined benefit retirement plans have mostly disappeared, and Americans’ individual savings for retirement have not caught up. And longer life also brings new health challenges.
“Women face unique hurdles. They begin retirement with a challenge that has followed many throughout their lives – the pay gap. Lower pay means less money saved. Women who chose to leave the workforce to be a parent or caregiver have fewer Social Security benefits built up. And women of color face an even deeper disparity. Over 70% of older Hispanic women and over 64% of older African American women are economically vulnerable.
“At NCOA, we know there are proven, cost-effective ways to help Americans navigate life after 65. With the help of thousands of partners, our programs address two essential pillars of life past 65 – health and economic security.
“Health is essential to independence. But older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease.
“The good news is that chronic conditions can be prevented and managed. One example is the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program. Available both in the community and online, it improves health and saves money. With help from Congress, NCOA hopes to bring this program to thousands of older adults.
“Falls are another significant health concern. The facts are alarming. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. They cost Medicare $31 billion a year.
“But falls are preventable. Programs offered in communities – such as A Matter of Balance and Tai Chi – can reduce falls by as much as 55%.
“NCOA leads two national initiatives to combat falls. And every September, we sponsor Falls Prevention Awareness Day to spotlight the issue. Thank you to Senators Collins and Casey for sponsoring the 2017 Senate resolution.
“Social isolation and loneliness are a problem for millions, as well. Older adults without adequate social interaction have a mortality risk that is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“In the community, senior centers are a beacon for older adults seeking social connections. They are a gateway to the nation’s aging network — connecting seniors to support, as well as fun and friendships. NCOA runs the National Institute of Senior Centers to promote excellence and best practices.
“When it comes to health, we believe prevention should be a national priority. Investing in programs like these improve seniors’ quality of life – and save money.
“Economic security is just as critical. Today, half of older adults living alone struggle to meet their monthly expenses. I want to share just two ways NCOA is working to change this statistic.
“First is benefits access. Less than half of eligible seniors are enrolled in public benefits programs. We support local benefits counselors, and we offer BenefitsCheckUp®, a free online benefits screening tool that has helped nearly 6.5 million people.
“Second is improving Medicare. Anyone who has turned 65 can tell you how overwhelming it can be to understand and enroll. And making poor decisions can hurt you – through higher costs, coverage gaps, and even lifetime penalties. We support the bipartisan BENNEES Act, introduced by Senator Casey, which aims to simplify enrollment.
“Continued funding for low-income benefits outreach and enrollment and full funding for the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program are critical. SHIPs provide local, in-depth counseling to Medicare beneficiaries, their families, and caregivers.
“Americans want help navigating life after 65. That’s why NCOA developed our own innovative approach called the Aging Mastery Program®. AMP brings together our best knowledge into a fun, engaging program that gives seniors a pathway to age well. More than 10,000 seniors have graduated so far.
“Aging well means making informed, deliberate choices. At NCOA, we offer tools and solutions to help seniors do just that. We look forward to working with the Committee to develop even more resources to help people navigate life after 65.”