By Sen Chuck Grassley
Q: What is Older Americans Month?
A: President Kennedy first declared May to be Senior Citizens Month in 1963. The proclamation was changed by President Carter, in 1980, to Older Americans Month, but the tradition has since lived on. Older Americans Month gives us all a chance to think about the issues that affect older Americans' quality of life. Each year, the Administration on Aging issues a theme for Older Americans Month. This year's theme is "Living Today for a Better Tomorrow." It's a fitting theme since older Americans are living longer than ever before, making the need to make healthy decisions today more important than ever.
Q: As Americans live longer, is America ready for the challenges?
A: Life spans have continually lengthened as nutrition has improved and advances in medical technology have been made. An increasingly older population creates public policy challenges, especially for entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. According to the Administration on Aging, one-fifth of the nation's population will be age 65 or older by 2030. This change also offers many positive things. Older Americans are leaving behind stereotypes and contributing to society in a big way by staying physically active and providing leadership in business, politics, community life, and the academic world. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 4.6 million people over the age of 65 are still employed. The knowledge and life experiences of this large portion of the population are significant, and later generations can learn a lot from the success achieved and challenges faced by older Americans.
Q: What have you done in Congress to help older Americans?
A: I've worked in the United States Senate to improve the quality of life for older Americans. In 2003, I shepherded through Congress a Medicare improvement bill that created the prescription drug benefit. In 2006, I sponsored legislation that safeguards worker pensions with post-Enron reforms and greatly enhances opportunities for retirement savings and security. I regularly work to help Medicare Dependent Hospitals get fair treatment through the Medicare program and to try to make sure Medicare reimbursement policies treat doctors fairly in order to avoid a doctor shortage for older Americans, especially in rural areas. I've also sponsored legislation that would make it easier for individuals to afford long-term care insurance, for employers to offer long-term care insurance benefits to employees, and to support family caregivers. Separate from legislation, I conduct extensive congressional oversight of the Medicare program. Every dollar that's lost to waste, fraud or abuse by government officials or contractors is a dollar that doesn't go to Medicare beneficiaries, as it should. While I was Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee in the late 1990s, I worked to expose terrible neglect in some of the nation's nursing homes. I've continued to work to improve the quality of care in nursing homes by riding herd on the federal government to do a better job of overseeing state inspections of homes and by empowering nursing home residents and their loved ones with more information about individual nursing homes. I also held a hearing as Aging Committee Chairman to draw attention to predatory lending schemes that target seniors in need of cash. It's shameful that some seniors are left homeless with their credit ruined because of language in the fine print that benefits the greed of mortgage companies and others. Finally, every year, I support federal funding for the activities through the Administration on Aging, including those that support preventive health care services, senior centers, family caregivers, congregate meals and nutrition programs.