RALEIGH – The fastest growing demographic in the state and the nation is people 85 years and older. Eric Schneidewind, national president of AARP is in North Carolina this week to meet with local officials across the state and the Governor’s Commission on Aging. He’s encouraging cities to consider seniors as they plan for future development, working toward what they call “livable communities” that have easy access to grocery stores, cultural resources, parks and healthcare, so people can age in their homes longer.
“Since my parents’ generation, we’ve added about ten years of pretty good quality life,” said Schneidewind in an interview in Raleigh with the North State Journal. “Now, well into your seventies you are able to enjoy life and hopefully you’ve saved. We’ve pushed out the age where you need a lot help, but at some point, you are going to need to dial back a bit. You’ll need different types of living quarters, and what people want is to stay where they are, if they could just get the additional services and amenities in the community that allow them to do that.”
According to AARP, aging at home costs about thirty percent less than nursing homes, but it requires city planning that keeps access for seniors in mind. “Livable communities” are a growing trend in towns across the state as Baby Boomers age, but stay busy with second careers and volunteer work. By 2020 more than half of towns are expected to be planning development with “livable communities” in mind.
“Our findings are that the sense of purpose that you get from going out and helping others is a critical factor in the not only emotional health but the physical health of people as they age,” said Schneidewind.
Planning for aging also means financial planning. On average people are retiring with less than $20,000 in savings and cost of healthcare is a wild card for most seniors. With the current climate around health care and how to pay for it, Schneidewind is keeping a close eye on proposed bills to repeal, replace of fix the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate’s top Republican urged quick action on another bill to repeal Obamacare, this one proposed by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy. The bill has revived a fight that many in Washington thought was over when an “skinny” or limited Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill failed in the Senate in July when three Republicans voted “no,” including Senator John McCain.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader, called the legislation “an intriguing idea and one that has a great deal of support.”
Lawmakers should act because “our opportunity to do so may well pass us by if we don’t act soon,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. The Graham/Cassidy bill has less than two weeks before procedural rules in the Senate make it much more difficult for the Republicans to do away with Obamacare.
The bill proposes replacing Obamacare with a system that would give states money in block grants to run their own healthcare programs and let them opt out of some Obamacare rules. Critics say it would bring deep cuts to the Medicaid program for the poor and higher insurance premiums for older people.
On Wednesday morning, Cassidy said his proposal would protect people who are already ill, although it does let states waive an Obamacare mandate that insurers cannot charge people who have pre-existing medical conditions more than those who are healthy.
“There is a specific provision that says that if a state applies for a waiver, it must ensure that those with pre-existing conditions have affordable and adequate coverage,” Cassidy said.
In a statement, Cassidy called his bill “must-pass” legislation and pointed out that Republicans faced a Sept. 30 deadline to get it through the Senate.
AARP says they have serious concerns.
“The bill not only rolls back by 2027 all of the Obama Medicaid expansion but then it takes the rest of Medicaid which was never touched by the other bills, and it starts reducing funding for that,” said Schneidewind. “Two-thirds of the people in nursing homes are supported on Medicaid programs. So the money to support them would start being cut and those cuts would deepen as time goes on. “
McConnell stopped short of promising to bring the legislation to the Senate floor. But he said Republican lawmakers would continue to discuss it. He has been meeting with lawmakers to assess whether the bill has the votes to pass.
“This looks like it’s going to be quite a battle, so AARP is gearing up and we will fight to stop this legislation because it hurts literally everybody,” said Schneidewind.
Did You Know?
Dial 211 for information on local resources for seniors. The statewide service, run by the United Way, helps seniors and their families find everything from health care resources to financial assistance and volunteer help. It’s funded by the state of N.C. and corporate donations.