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From the category archives: Aging Issues

Celebrating Older Americans Month

Chances are if you, or anyone in your family, is 65 or older your life has been impacted by an Older Americans Act program.  From Meals on Wheels to senior centers, prevention of physical and financial abuse, computer training to legal assistance, OAA programs touch the lives of millions of seniors and their families.  This myriad of programs provides home and community-based services making it possible for older adults to remain independent, but they’ve continually faced flat or shrinking budgets at a time of growing needs.  Funding programs that allow seniors to age in place is cost-effective; however, the Older Americans Act languished for more than 5 years without Congressional reauthorization. 

Thankfully, this year is different.  Today we are celebrating Older Americans Month with a newly reauthorized OAA, signed by President Obama just a few weeks ago:

“The President believes in the Older Americans Act because it funds services that are central to older adults’ health and lasting independence, such as meals, job training, transportation, and health promotion.  And for those who do need consistent care, the law provides nursing home protections and enhances the Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs.”  Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President

The celebration continues as The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (@LCAgingOrgs), chaired by the National Committee, will host a Twitter chat on May 24 @ 1-2 p.m. ET to celebrate Older Americans Month—and call for funding investments in Older Americans Act programs. You’re invited to join the chat using #WeAreOAA.

Join at www.twitter.com/#WeAreOAA or at http://twubs.com/WeAreOAA

No One Really Knows What Trump Plans for Social Security...Possibly Including Trump Himself

Donald Trump’s flip-flopping on his tax plan this week has many politicos scratching their heads.  ABC reported it this way:

“As Donald Trump pivots to the general election battle, he's already walking back his tax plan, the most specific policy proposal he has released during the campaign. 'By the time it gets negotiated, it's going to be a different plan," Trump told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News' This Week.

In Trump’s tax plan, the wealthiest individuals would get a tax break, with the top tax rate dropping from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. But when pressed if he wants taxes on the wealthy to go up or down, he predicted that the top rate would be higher than the plan says. ‘On my plan they're going down. But by the time it's negotiated, they'll go up,’ Trump said.”

Well, of course any President’s budget plan, tax plan, Social Security plan, Medicare plan (...you get the idea) will be negotiated with a Congress which may hate the idea.  That’s why it’s called a “plan” and not “law.”  Doesn’t that really go without saying?  So what is “The Donald” actually proposing as the presumptive GOP nominee for President?

The Campaign for America’s Future noted Trump’s very similar approach on the minimum wage:

“What Trump actually did was say he would “like to see an increase” then took a position against using presidential power to mandate an increase – and, arguably, against having any federal minimum wage at all! – in deference to the states. It’s lovely that his wish is for those states to propose increases, but refusal to promote federal legislation makes him no different from every other Republican who opposes a federal minimum wage increase.”

So that leads us to the current Trump 2.0 campaign plan (please read our earlier post to compare Trump’s polar opposite views between campaigns) to not cut Social Security and Medicare.  Of course, that’s a “plan” too and there are many in the GOP House and Senate who don’t agree, so does that mean this plan is just as illusory as his now morphing tax plan and minimum wage plan?  More importantly, in direct relation to his convoluted tax musings, does Donald Trump oppose raising the payroll tax cap so that the wealthy contribute to Social Security based on their full income just as middle-class and poor Americans do? 

We certainly don’t know and wonder...does Donald Trump? 


The Retirement Challenge Threatening Our Mothers

Money posed an interesting question today in advance of Mother’s Day weekend...

 What's better than flowers for mom?  A fatter 401(k).

While you’re not likely to go out and set up a 401K for mom today you should be aware of the inherent and serious challenges our mothers are facing in retirement.  NCPSSM’s President/CEO, Max Richtman, describes it this way:

“Women earn less than men even when doing the same jobs, they more often work part-time or in jobs that do not offer retirement savings plans, and they tend to spend more time out of the workforce as a consequence of their caregiving responsibilities. Women could lose $430,480 in earnings over the course of a 40-year career due to the wage gap alone.  For Latinas the career losses mount to $1,007,080, and for African American women the losses are $877,480. Lower career earnings also translate to fewer savings for many women in retirement. At the same time, their longer lifespan and higher chances of disability means that they will have higher retirement costs, both for everyday expenses and necessary medical care.” 

Is it any surprise that the thought of running out of money in retirement keeps 57% of women awake at night?  Finding ways to eliminate this retirement inequity is at the heart of our Eleanor’s Hope initiative. Named in honor of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, this campaign raises awareness, recruits and trains new activists and bolsters Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s health and retirement security issues.  We are also advocating for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women and working to elect lawmakers who share our vision of retirement equity for women. 

There are a number of proposals which, if adopted, could significantly level the playing field for women and reduce the threat of poverty in their old age: 

Gender Pay Equity. Eliminating the wage gap that limits women’s earnings is essential to helping our daughters and granddaughters save for their own retirement. Congress should strengthen and reform the “Equal Pay Act” by putting an end to pay secrecy, strengthening workers’ ability to challenge discrimination and bringing equal pay law into line with other civil rights laws.  

Caregiver Credit. Compute the Social Security benefit by giving an annual caregiver credit for each year of caregiving so that total earnings for the year would equal 50 percent of that year’s average annual wage. Caregiving service years would be those in which an individual provides care to children under the age of six or to elderly or disabled family members. Up to five family service years could be granted to any worker.

Improve Survivor Benefits. Increase the benefit paid to a surviving spouse to an amount that is equal to 75 percent of the total combined benefits that were paid to the couple prior to the spouse’s death, capped at the benefit level of a lifelong average earner.

Consumer Price Index for the Elderly. Adopt the Consumer Price Index for The Elderly (CPI-E) for the purpose of determining the amount of the cost-of living adjustment (COLA) adjustment for Social Security benefits. This is especially important for women who tend to receive benefits longer because they live longer.

By all means, please go ahead and buy those flowers for mom this weekend.  Also consider getting involved with our Eleanor’s Hope campaign to ensure generations of American mothers can enjoy a retirement free of worry and poverty. 

 

Nursing Homes Say: Hold the Meatloaf...Pass the Lo Mein, Please

There’s a growing trend among the nation’s more than 15 thousand nursing homes to break away from rigid meal schedules and standard menus to individualized meals which acknowledge their residents’ dietary, ethnic and cultural diversity.  Rather than chicken and mashed potatoes Tuesdays imagine instead a Thai-style soup with fresh ginger, vegetables and thin-sliced beef as an option.

The Associated Press reports:

“...the federal government is proposing regulations that would require facilities to create menus that reflect religious, cultural and ethnic needs and preferences, as well. Further, the proposed rules would empower nursing home residents with the "right to make personal dietary choices."

The government acknowledges that the nation's 1.4 million nursing home residents are diverse and that ‘it may be challenging’ to meet every preference. But it wants facilities to offer residents ‘meaningful choices in diets that are nutritionally adequate and satisfying to the individual.’ “

Advocates have argued for these changes for decades but cost is a challenge. 

“Janet Burns, chief executive at Sunny Vista, said the cost of fresh food is lower than prepackaged meals, but labor costs are higher. Her dietary costs were $1.08 higher than the nation's average in 2014. However, she said, higher costs are offset by things like preventing weight loss, a problem experienced by many nursing home residents. For example, she said, medication to increase a resident's appetite is more expensive than preparing a special meal. Costs aside, Burns said, ‘It's the right thing to do.’"

The benefits of more appealing and healthier food options could improve not only the quality of life but the health of residents.

“Sandra Simmons, a professor at Vanderbilt University who studies quality of care and life in institutional settings, says studies have shown that the daily caloric intake of 50 percent to 70 percent of nursing home residents is below recommended levels, she said.”

Something as simple as providing more appealing menus could make the difference. 

New Medicaid Rules Designed to Put Care Over Profit

CMS has announced tightened Medicaid rules for private insurance plans that administer most Medicaid benefits for the poor. The Obama administration says the rules will limit profits, ease enrollment, require minimum levels of participating doctors and eventually provide quality ratings.  However, those ratings would still be years away as the industry continues to fight against such measures. 

Kaiser Health News provides details on the biggest changes for Medicaid managed care in a decade.  The new rules will:

  • Require states to set rules ensuring Medicaid plans have enough physicians in the right places. The standards will include “time and distance” maximums to ensure doctors aren’t too far away from members.
  • Limit insurer profits by requiring rate setting that assumes 85 percent of revenue will be spent on medical care. Unlike a similar rule for other plans, such as insurance sold through Obamacare marketplaces, the requirement would not compel Medicaid insurers to rebate the difference if they don’t hit 85 percent. Future rates would be adjusted instead.
  • Make plans regularly update directories of doctors and hospitals. A 2014 investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general found that half the doctors listed in official insurer directories weren’t taking new Medicaid patients.
  • Push plans to better detect and prevent fraud by providers, including mandatory reporting of suspected abuse to the states.
  • Tighten rules for Medicaid plans and states to collect patient data and submit it to HHS.
  • Make it easier for states to offer managed-care plans incentives to improve clinical outcomes, reduce costs and share patient information among hospitals and doctors.

Nearly two-thirds of Medicaid’s 72 million member are enrolled in private managed-care plans.  Consumer advocates have pushed HHS to set stricter rules for managed-care plans, which they said too often favored profits over patients. The industry and some state Medicaid directors resisted, saying plans needed flexibility to serve different members in different states.

The rules will be phased-in over the next three years, starting next summer. 


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