Aging Is Still Not in Vogue. Why?

Here we are fresh off the Super Bowl, the State of the Union address and rebuttal speech, the Grammys and any number of other national events . . . and yet we haven’t heard a word about the issues facing today’s (and tomorrow’s) older adults. Well, I take that back — a Super Bowl ad did a tongue-in-cheek take on older adults having to work to make ends meet in their later years. But even this was more of an ageist attempt at making fun of a very serious issue.

Yes, aging is still not in vogue.

Not a single mention from our nation’s leaders on issues surrounding aging; not a single comment about a broken system of publicly funded reimbursement for aging services; not a peep about a pending affordable housing crisis for a burgeoning generation of older adults; and not an innovative word spoken about how to solve problems of funding and access.

Why is this the case? Why is it we are ignoring these really pressing issues? I don’t have an answer, other than to surmise that the problem is so big that no one (national, elected officials) will stick their neck out there to do the right thing. And this most likely involves collecting more revenue to pay for a coordinated system of long-term care and supports.  That type of thinking and action is far too progressive for today’s electorate, and elected officials always steer clear of rankling their constituents.

But is this necessarily true?

Last week, Amazon, JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway (headed by Warren Buffett) announced their intentions to start their own health care system in the midst of out-of- control costs and accessibility issues. While another indicator that not enough is being done on this issue by our elected officials, the vagueness of the announcement brought an interesting editorial comment from The Wall Street Journal.  The Journal‘s editorial advised Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Buffett and company to “go much bigger” than the low hanging pharmaceutical and technology fruit. To really effect health care costs, The Journal rightly noted, they must address the issue of chronic conditions — and what bigger chronic condition is there than aging?

Sixty-five percent of all older adults over the age of 65 will need some form of long-term services and supports. Yet the only mechanism that currently exists to help individuals and their families pay for their care is a repressive, humiliating “spend down” of assets to the point of poverty, so one can then — and only then — enroll in Medicaid. Medicaid, by the way, only reimburses most providers 70-80 percent of the cost of care.  And we wonder why some of our long-term care facilities and programs experience quality problems?

An estimated 11,000 of us are turning 65 years of age every day — a rate never seen before in this country. Why then is aging not in vogue? Why are we “kicking the can down the road?” It’s easy to blame the politicians. But remember — they are just a mirror of those they represent. Yes, the reason the issues are not being addressed is that we are not demanding they be addressed.

It’s time now for aging to be in vogue! Let’s start a new, more innovative conversation that gets aging on the national agenda.

And let the conversation begin with me.

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