5 Ways the New Congress Can Support Older Americans and Their Families

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NCOA outlines public policy priorities for 115th Congress

Arlington, VA – With a new Administration and Congress arriving in January, 2017 promises historic debates that could significantly impact the lives of older Americans and their families—today and tomorrow. Founded in 1950 as the first national senior advocacy organization, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) will advocate for 5 priorities to help all Americans age with health, economic security, and independence.

“In the coming months, there will be important discussions about the future of key programs that older Americans and their families depend on—including the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act,” said Howard Bedlin, NCOA Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy. “These programs are not just for today’s seniors. They provide critical supports for all of us, and our families, as we grow older. NCOA will work to find bipartisan opportunities to defend and improve them.”

In 2017, NCOA will urge Congress to:

1. Protect and strengthen key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

According to the nonpartisan Urban Institute, more than 4.5 million Americans aged 55-64 could lose their health insurance coverage by 2019 under the anticipated ACA repeal bill. Seniors over age 65 also could lose important assistance that helps them stay healthy. NCOA is concerned about the following ACA provisions, which we believe are in particular jeopardy:

  • The Prevention and Public Health Fund, which invests in evidence-based programs that empower seniors to self-manage chronic conditions and prevent costly—and often fatal—falls.
  • The Community First Choice Option, which helps keep low-income seniors and people with disabilities out of nursing homes by providing more home and community-based services.
  • Medicaid expansion, which helps states provide health insurance coverage to low-income people aged 55-64 who are not yet eligible for Medicare.
  • Insurance premium limits, which restrict insurance companies from further raising health care premiums on people in their 50s and 60s.

The American people deserve to see the details of a health care replacement plan before Congress takes any vote to eliminate current insurance coverage and consumer protections.

2. Improve Medicaid and reject cuts

Medicaid is a lifeline for poor older adults, providing coverage for more than 6 million seniors in 2015. It pays for more than 60% of all long-term care and makes hospital and doctor visits affordable for low-income seniors by paying for Medicare premiums and cost-sharing.

NCOA urges Congress not to cut or change the fundamental structure of our nation’s Medicaid health care safety net. Recent House budget proposals would have cut Medicaid funding by more than $900 billion over 10 years and turn it into a block grant program. These changes would shift rising health costs to states, individuals, and their families, making it harder for poor seniors to remain at home and afford the health care they need. These changes also could undermine current consumer protections, including those that ensure nursing home quality and financial protections for spouses of those who need long-term care.

3. Restore investments in programs that keep older adults healthy and independent

With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, investments in senior programs have failed to keep pace with the growing need. Nationwide, millions of seniors no longer have access to meals, job placement services, transportation, and caregiver support because these programs have closed or have long waiting lists for the first time. Funding for these non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs is approaching an historic low as a share of the economy.

NCOA urges Congress to restore funding and invest in the Older Americans Act, Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program, Senior Community Service Employment Program, and Elder Justice Act. In addition, Congress should reject cuts to programs that help vulnerable seniors, such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Social Services Block Grant, and Community Services Block Grant.

4. Defend and improve Medicare

Medicare is a guarantee that millions of seniors and individuals with disabilities depend on. Congress must preserve its fundamental promise and structure. Premium support proposals would give people with Medicare a fixed dollar amount to pay for health care, instead of covering a specific set of essential benefits and services. This would unfairly place the burden of rising health costs onto people with Medicare, most of whom have fixed incomes that do not keep pace with the rising cost of living.

NCOA will work towards pragmatic, bipartisan solutions to strengthen Medicare by:

  • Investing in outreach and enrollment for those who are eligible for low-income assistance, but are not receiving help.
  • No longer penalizing and denying assistance to seniors who did the right thing by saving a modest “nest egg” of assets while working.
  • Improving access for Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions to evidence-based community programs that save money and improve quality of life.
  • Empowering beneficiaries with better information and tools to make good choices about affordable Medicare coverage that best meets their needs.

5. Improve access to home and community-based services and family caregiver supports

Overwhelmingly, older adults want to stay in their own homes and communities as long as possible. NCOA believes there are significant bipartisan opportunities to save money and help families delay or avoid nursing home placements. Two examples include:

  • The Money Follows the Person Program, which assists states in making home and community-based services more widely available. It expired in October 2016, but the program has had strong bipartisan support and should be extended.
  • Legislation to support family caregivers, including a bipartisan bill in the House and Senate that would provide a caregiver tax credit. President-elect Trump has highlighted this as a priority in his plan for the first 100 days.

“NCOA has a 66-year history of serving older adults who are struggling,” said Carol Zernial, NCOA Board Chair and Executive Director of the WellMed Charitable Foundation in San Antonio, TX. “We will continue to look for ways to support the seniors who helped build our country.”

To learn more about NCOA’s public policy priorities, please follow our Public Policy Blog, sign up for NCOA’s advocacy alerts, and join the conversation on social media with #StandWithSeniors.

About NCOA

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is a respected national leader and trusted partner to help people aged 60+ meet the challenges of aging. Our mission is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling. Through innovative community programs and services, online help, and advocacy, NCOA is partnering with nonprofit organizations, government, and business to improve the health and economic security of 10 million older adults by 2020. Learn more at ncoa.org and @NCOAging.