Top 6 Policy Issues Affecting Seniors in 2012

Election Year Politics and Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act Will Play Key Role in the Lives of Older Adults this Year
[title]

With Congress back in session and the presidential election year in full swing, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) encourages older adults and their caregivers to advocate for key issues that could greatly affect their lives, and their livelihoods. 

While Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are top priorities, and will likely receive the bulk of media attention, NCOA doesn't anticipate any significant movement on these issues in 2012.

However, NCOA has developed a list of the top 6 issues that seniors should understand, track, and speak out on in 2012:

Older Americans Act (OAA): The OAA is up for reauthorization, which offers a prime opportunity to strengthen and modernize aging services to ensure that we meet the diverse needs of our growing older population—especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. The OAA funds critical, cost-effective programs that allow seniors to stay healthy and independent in their communities. These include job training and placement (under the Senior Community Service Employment Program - SCSEP), health promotion and disease prevention, senior nutrition programs, senior centers, caregiver support, and more. Action in the Senate is expected soon.

Extensions of Medicare Low-Income Protections, "Doc Fix," and Unemployment Insurance: At the end of last year, Congress passed a bill to extend until Feb. 29 several programs that provide key benefits to the most vulnerable older adults. Now lawmakers must pass a long-term extension to continue these programs. They include the Qualified Individual (QI) program, which helps disadvantaged seniors pay their Medicare Part B premiums; Medicare physician payments (the "doc fix"), to prevent serious cuts in payments to doctors under Medicare; and Unemployment Insurance benefits to continue support for individuals struggling to find work. Seniors should also be mindful that some want to cut Medicare or prevention benefits to pay for these and other extensions.

Senior Program Funding Cuts: Budget cuts over the past year have significantly affected the most vulnerable older adults, with major reductions in housing, energy, and employment assistance for low-income seniors. The combination of these funding cuts, a rapidly growing senior population, and increased demand for economic assistance means millions of older adults will not get the services they need to make ends meet. Funding for senior programs will continue to be in jeopardy throughout the year.

Long-Term Care: As part of the Affordable Care Act, Congress passed a new voluntary, long-term care insurance program called the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Program (CLASS). CLASS would allow individuals to plan for long-term services as they age and remain at home rather than being forced to spend-down their life savings or enter a nursing home. However, implementation of CLASS has been suspended. Some opponents in Congress believe the program should be repealed, but have offered nothing in its place to address the growing problem that millions of families and caregivers struggle with every day. NCOA and a broad range of organizations representing seniors and people with disabilities believe CLASS can be fixed and must not be repealed – at least until a consensus can be developed on a viable alternative.

Access to Preventive Benefits: In addition to funding for senior health promotion and disease prevention under the OAA, some members of Congress have tried to repeal or significantly cut other preventive benefits. For example, the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which includes resources for proven chronic disease self-management programs for seniors, has been specifically targeted for repeal and major budget cuts. The Senate also proposed last year to include new investments for elder falls prevention under this fund. The proposed repeals of health care reform also would mean elimination of the new Medicare annual wellness visit and increased copayments for other preventive services that are now free under Medicare. 

Hunger and Food Insecurity: In addition to funding for Meals on Wheels, congregate meals programs, and food banks, renewal of agriculture legislation (the Farm Bill) provides an opportunity to increase access to nutrition assistance for seniors. Only one-third of low-income seniors who are eligible currently participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly Food Stamps). Changes that can increase access and benefits include altering eligibility rules, increasing the minimum benefit, streamlining and modernizing applications, and enhancing access to healthy food options. However, in the name of deficit reduction, some in Congress are likely to propose reducing access to these benefits.

"America's seniors have never been a group to stay silent," said Jim Firman, NCOA president and CEO. "Collectively, they can help raise the voices of millions of older adults and fight for much-needed services and supports for our most vulnerable population."

For tips on how to advocate, additional information on these issues, and directions for contacting your members of Congress, please visit ncoa.org/Toolkit.