Categorized | Viewpoint

The State of the (elderly) Commonwealth

By Al Norman

No governor since Mitt Romney in 2006 has mentioned “elders’ in their State of the Commonwealth speech. On Jan. 24, Gov. Charlie Baker made reference to a yet-to-be filed executive order that would focus on older adults—but the details of the order are not known. We applaud the governor for mentioning older adults in his speech, and we are prepared to work with him on his executive order. But there are major fears among the elderly that need to be addressed, in light of rhetoric coming out of Congress and the White House.

Here is what the governor said near the end of his speech:

“We must also think differently about how we support and engage older adults. The notion that people are fully retired at the age of 62 or 65 is inconsistent with what I see every day. And even if some have stepped back from what they spent most of their lives doing, most still have tons of time and talent available to do something else.

“Hey – I turned 60 in November. Sixty. I remember thinking that was ancient when my dad turned 60. Now he’s 88 and still the smartest, most informed person I know. And Dad – nobody gives better advice than you do.

“There are thousands of citizens in Massachusetts who are still very much in the game in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. And there’ll be more as our population continues to age. I’ll be signing an executive order in the coming weeks that will establish a council on older adults. It will focus on policies and programs that make it possible for even more older adults and seniors to live vibrant, purposeful lives.”

Elder advocates want to hear more about this executive order, and its purpose. But what we do know is that there are roughly 1.5 million people in the commonwealth today, and the large majority of them are worried about their future:

  • They are worried that the Social Security retirement income they rely on will be targeted for cutbacks in Washington.
  • They are worried that their Medicare program is going be turned into some kind of voucher that will lose value, and deny future seniors access to a predictable and reliable health plan.
  • They are worried that Medicaid program, which has expanded enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, will be converted into a fixed block grant that will deny low income seniors an affordable health care plan that covers pre-existing conditions.
  • They worry that the Medicare Part D donut hole of uncovered drug costs will open back up if the ACA is repealed.
  • They worry that community-based services at the state level will continue to suffer cutbacks, as home care, home health care and adult foster care have suffered rate cutbacks in the past year.
  • They worry that elders will continue to be pushed into nursing facilities instead of being returned to their home.
  • They worry that the underpaid workforce that provides care at home will not be there as the population of needy seniors expands, and the workforce shrinks.

Seniors who were looking for some assurance that state government will not stand by and watch Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid be radically changed, did not receive any comfort from the State of the Commonwealth. I am pleased that the governor has older adults on his mind—but seniors have a lot on their mind as well. This is the time for the state to shore up its programs to help older people to “age in place” at home. They want income security—because Massachusetts now ranks second only to Mississippi in the percentage of older residents who are living in economic insecurity, unable to pay their bills without going into debt.

Elders want a champion who will protect their economic security. Their basic income and health care is under assault–and they are looking for a vigorous defense of the programs that have kept them out of poverty.

Al Norman is the Executive Director of Mass Home Care. He can be reached at 978-502-3794, or at info@masshomecare.org.

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