ICYMI, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand penned an oped for the New York Daily News highlighting her new Master Plan on Aging. The 5-point plan would ensure every American has the support needed to age with dignity and financial security, and address nutrition, health care social security and financial security, the ability to age in place and employment.
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Not too long ago, a man named Jonathan in Westchester County reached out to my Senate office for help. A retired older adult on a fixed income, Jonathan was struggling to pay for his multiple medications. He told us that one of these medications — for his leukemia — was no longer covered by Medicare because the price had increased to $2,700 a month.
Stories like this are far too common. But they demonstrate just one of the many challenges that older Americans face — everything from housing and food insecurity to skyrocketing health care costs, insufficient retirement savings, and elder abuse.
There are more than 75 million Americans aged 60 years and older, and that number will rise in the coming years. By 2034, the number of adults 65 and older will be greater than the number of children under age 18. But even as the number of older adults grows, as a nation we are still woefully unprepared to meet the needs of a rapidly aging population.
With prices still high on everything from food to housing, more older Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Many are going homeless or experiencing food insecurity. Others are relying on friends and family for much-needed care because they cannot afford a professional caregiver. Still more are being abused or falling victim to scams that target older adults.
Unless we take the needs of older adults more seriously, our nation will face the pain and consequences of an aging, uncared for population.
As a member of the Special Committee on Aging, it is one of my top priorities to make sure older Americans get the support they need to age with dignity and prosperity. Which is why I developed and plan to pass in Congress a five-point Master Plan on Aging.
First, we must ensure older Americans have access to affordable and healthy meals. About 5.2 million older adults nationwide, including an estimated 7.6% of older adults in New York, were food insecure in 2020. My plan would increase access and funding for the affordable, nutritious foods that our older Americans need to stay healthy.
Second, we must guarantee that older Americans have access to affordable and reliable health care. The high cost of drugs causes many Americans to delay or skip taking needed treatments. In addition, untreated oral health problems or hearing or vision loss can lead to serious risks for overall health. I am working to protect Medicare, expand coverage to include dental, hearing, and vision benefits, and continue bringing down the cost of prescription drugs. I’m also writing a new bill that would make sure more people suffering from mental or other health challenges have access to the high-quality services they need.
Third, we must ensure older adults have economic security in their retirement. I support legislation to protect and expand Social Security, stop age discrimination in employment, and to provide more tools to respond to and prevent financial scams and abuse.
Fourth, we must safeguard the right to age in place and enable older Americans and people with disabilities or mobility challenges to remain in their homes, stay active in their communities, and lead independent lives. The overwhelming preference of older adults is to age in place in their own homes, and caregiver support is critical to being able to age in place. There are 2.5 million unpaid family caregivers throughout New York State, and more than 1 in 5 Americans are currently involved in family caregiving for loved ones who are ill, disabled, or elderly. I am working to expand and invest in home and community-based care services and provide more support for family caregivers by extending Social Security credit eligibility to caregivers.
Finally, we must invest in affordable, accessible, aging-friendly spaces and employment. As many older Americans start to develop problems with seeing, hearing, and mobility, they face increased barriers to living and working. More than 40% of Americans age 65 and older have some kind of disability. Moreover, workers older than 55 are a critical segment of the American economy. I support several bills to make sure older Americans can work, live, and move around comfortably in their communities, and have access to affordable and accessible housing, transportation, and other services.
When you look at how a society cares for its older adults, it gives you insight into its values. That is why it is important that we invest in our older loved ones. By working to address the areas of greatest need for older adults and their caregivers, we can ensure a brighter future — not just for older adults, but also for our economy, our communities, and our world.
Gillibrand is a U.S. senator from New York.