There are 55 million Americans 65 and over today. In 2040, that number will reach 82 million. That massive demographic shift will impact everything – the economy, health and long-term care services, public and private pensions, housing, transportation, social services and so much else.
It may be one of the biggest challenges – or opportunities– facing this nation. Yet hardly any of our elected leaders have seen it as a priority or done anything of significance to address it. We’ve challenged presidential candidates to seize the moment to do so.
The good news is that they had a chance to do just that thanks to the recent AARP/Des Moines Register Presidential Candidate Forums held around the state, including Sioux City. Seventeen candidates participated, each having approximately 25 minutes to answer questions from the audience and event moderators.
The forums gave a much-needed focus to a host of important aging issues - too many to address in this column. The conversations were eye-opening. We learned a great deal about the personality and knowledge of the candidates as well as their views and ideas.
Here are some of the forum’s common themes:
* Preserve Social Security for future generations by lifting the ceiling on the amount of earnings subject to the payroll tax (currently, the tax is paid on earnings up to $132,900). Having the tax paid on higher earnings would shore up the financing of the system by increasing the amount of revenue coming in.
* Improve Medicare by providing coverage for hearing, vision and dental services; expanding coverage for home care aides and other services that allow people to live in their own homes longer; and increasing reimbursement rates in order for hospitals and other providers to remain viable.
* Change how money is spent on health care by investing more in keeping people healthier longer rather than treating them when they’re sick. An example: spending more on research into how to prevent or delay disease (cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc.) would improve quality of life AND save taxpayer dollars.
*Reduce costs of prescription drugs by allowing the government to negotiate prices with the drug industry, making it legal to import drugs from other nations, and reviewing patent laws to ensure that generic drugs get on the market quicker.
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* Address long-term care workforce shortages with policies that improve pay and benefits, increase training and provide more opportunity for career growth. Candidates recognized the importance of finding and keeping high quality home care aides, certified nurse aides and others who care for and support aging Americans. Various candidates called this work “enormously important” and “desperately needed.” They lauded workers as “compassionate, good people” who deserve more recognition.
* Do more to support family caregivers. This was close to home for many candidates who shared their own experiences caring for parents, spouses, adult children and others. Several spoke in emotional terms about how challenging caregiving is, and how our nation needs to do more to support caregivers with tax credits, paid family leave, and better ways to pay for the costs of critically important long-term care services.
There was significant disagreement on one big topic: how to ensure affordable health insurance.
Several candidates support a Medicare for All plan that would, over a several-years period, result in every American enrolled in Medicare.
Numerous other candidates support a variation of that. Often referred to as a public option, it would give every American the choice of keeping the insurance they have or enrolling in Medicare, or a program similar to it.
If you haven’t already, we urge you to watch the recordings online at Iowa AARP Presidential Forum. It’s a unique opportunity to compare and contrast how each candidate approaches these critical issues.
The forums should be viewed as the start of a conversation that needs to be continued at every campaign event across Iowa. In politics, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If change is wanted, Iowans must show up and keep asking questions and challenging the candidates to take action.
John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny, Iowa, based advocacy, consulting and communications firm focused on aging and caregiving issues. Contact them at email@example.com.
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