Friday, May 29, 2009

Long-Term Care and Health Care Reform

Congress is moving forward in discussions around health care reform as the President looks to get a bill passed before the end of the year. This is great news for the 40 million uninsured, and will hopefully be great news for many underinsured elders who need, but cannot afford long-term care (LTC) services. Currently, discussions focus on expanding and improving acute care and insuring universal coverage. Many advocates for elder issues have tried to raise awareness around the need to include long-term care in the discussion.

The Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index) measures the cost of home and community-based long-term care services depending upon an elder’s need. These costs can double or even triple what an elder needs to make ends meet. In New Jersey, long-term care costs range from $6,000 to over $46,000, according to the Elder Index. These high costs are minimal, however, compared to the institutional cost in New Jersey, and give ample evidence of why LTC reform is needed; so more elders can age in place.

Most insured elders rely on Medicare and Medigap which do not cover most long-term care expenses. The only options for elders in poor health are to qualify for Medicaid, pay for LTC insurance out-of-pocket (which becomes more expensive as you age) or rely upon the support of family and friends. The last option at times results in caregivers making sacrifices to their own financial, physical and emotional well-being to take care of a loved one.

Incremental change is possible with the Empowered at Home Act and the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act (CLASS Act). Of course, overall health care reform should consider the LTC struggles as well. Senator Kennedy’s recent remarks in a Boston Globe Op/Ed on health care reform give many elder advocates hope, “…we'll make it possible for the elderly and disabled to live at home and function independently. Our bill will help them afford to put ramps in their homes, pay someone to check in on them regularly, or any of an array of supports that will enable them to stay in their communities instead of in nursing homes”.

The health care reform debates are the opportune time to address the LTC issue and implement policies that will increase the quality of care while decreasing the medical out-of-pocket expense for elders and we, as advocates, will need to be diligent in voicing our concerns to ensure this happens.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Feature: Pension Rights Center

Thank you to all who participated in our May 1st, "Blog About It: Elder Economic Security" event. It was a great success! This week, we are highlighting one of our blog day co-sponsors, the Pension Rights Center (PRC). The PRC is an organization committed to promoting and protecting elder economic security.

Older Americans Month Posted by Joellen Leavelle

Today, May 1, marks the start of Older Americans Month. What better a day to discuss the retirement security of older Americans? Not so long ago retirement security was thought of as a three-legged stool, consisting of employer-sponsored pensions, personal savings and Social Security. Today the only leg of that stool that remains intact is Social Security.

More and more employers are breaking their pension promises by freezing their traditional pension plans or by suspending their 401(k) matching contributions. And most workers have very little in personal savings.

What remains clear, however, is that we need something more. Take one look at the statistics for older Americans today and you’ll see why. For 2009 the average annual Social Security benefit is $13,383, only slightly more than the federal minimum wage. And, in 2007, half of Americans age 65 and older who had income from financial assets received less than $1,585 a year in income from those assets. Significantly, older Americans with pensions fared much better than those without them. The median annual income of retirees with pensions was $31,227 while the median annual income of retirees living only on Social Security was $16,527.

And for women, the numbers are far worse. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2007, the median annual income for women age 65 and older was $13,877 compared to $24,142 for men. The Elder Economic Sufficiency Index released by Wider Opportunities for Women shows how elders with low- and modest-incomes are challenged to cover their living costs today, as costs for basic needs are rising much faster than their incomes. That’s why the Pension Rights Center’s Women’s Pension Project is working to make retirement plans fairer to women.

At the same time, something must be done to ensure that the three-legged stool of retirement security is redesigned and rebuilt. That’s why the Center, along with three other organizations, launched Retirement USA, an initiative working toward a new retirement system that, along with Social Security, will provide universal, secure, and adequate income for tomorrow’s older Americans.

This blog entry was written as part of a blog day sponsored by Wider Opportunities for Women.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What's Going on with Social Security?

President Franklin Delano Rosevelt signing into the law the Social Security Act of 1935.

This week, the Social Security and Medicare Trustees issued their annual report to Congress, affirming that Social Security is sound and in no immediate danger. Rather, the program continues to run large surpluses in spite of the economic downturn. The Trustees project that Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until 2037, four years earlier than the last projection. The report further shows that rapidly rising health care costs threaten Medicare’s solvency as early as 2017, confirming that health care is the crisis, not entitlements. The report has sparked renewed calls for action to address these issues.

Dr. Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research, wrote a commentary piece this week, “Social Security Healthier than Your 401(k)”. The piece focuses on the importance of Social Security and its exceptional functionality in comparison to the private retirement system and is a great realistic argument about plausible minor changes to Social Security to increase its longevity.

For so many elders across the country, Social Security is a steady source of income they can count on. In Minnesota, nearly 20% of elders depend on Social Security as their sole source of income, as cited in the state’s Elder Economic Security Initiative™ policy brief: “Elders Living on the Edge: When Meeting Basic Needs Exceeds Available Income in Minnesota”. In New Jersey, more than 25% of elders receive Social Security as their only source of income, as cited in the New Jersey Policy Brief. Social Security alone is not enough for elders to make ends meet, but without it as income, some elders would have nothing. According to the national Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index, Social Security provides on average about 60% of the income need by a woman to achieve economic security when living mortgage free. With the three legged stool of retirement – Social Security, pension and private savings – dissolving, more and more seniors are relying on Social Security alone in retirement. At WOW, we hope the adequacy of Social Security in retirement to meet basic need can receive equal policy attention as solvency receives.

Social Security is still a bedrock government program that continues to pay out benefits to 35 million retirees and their spouses on time each month. Given the latest news of its solvency will no doubt continue to increase discussion about changing the program sooner rather than later to maintain its effectiveness. As Congress begins deliberating more seriously about the issue, we hope they will take into account the vital role Social Security plays in the lives of elders, and also realize that Social Security alone does not make our elders economically secure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

OWL Blogs About Elder Economic Security!

The Older Women's League, an event co-sponsor, blogs about the Elder Economic Security Initiative and its importance as we begin Older Americans Month. Check out the post here!

What does elder economic security mean for Wisconsin?

Our Wisconsin partner, the Wisconsin Women's Network, blogs about what elder economic security means in their state.

Here in Wisconsin, we believe that elder economic security means the ability to age in place with dignity – for everyone. We believe that all elders deserve to be able to age in the place they choose with the economic resources and support necessary to do so, while maintaining independence and community involvement for as long as possible. The Wisconsin Elder Economic Security Initiative (WiEESI), a program of the Wisconsin Women's Network , is working in a variety of areas to help achieve this goal. We are providing the Wisconsin Elder Economic Security Standard Index and the information it contains to advocates, organizations and policy makers to inform the creation of policy and programs through venues such as a legislative seminar in September 2009 and ongoing presentations around the state. We are partnering with the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) to pilot seminars which combine the WiEESI data and WISER’s experience in teaching women about planning for retirement to help Wisconsin women of all ages prepare for a financially secure retirement. On the horizon, we are looking into partnering with other state groups on common goals to give elders an opportunity to raise their voices on the issues that affect their economic well-being. We hope you’ll join us!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Women's Perspectives on Elder Economic Security

As part of our "Blog About It: Elder Economic Security" event, we interviewed women on their views about elder economic security and asked them about what they will need for retirement, and how the economic downturn has changed their view about retirement security. Some women also shared their opinion on what can be done to make retirement savings easier.

Check out the video below!

What does elder economic security mean for Michigan?

Our Michigan partner, Elder Law of Michigan, blogs today about the economy's affect on its state's elders and what needs to be done to move them toward economic security.

A View from Michigan

At one time Michigan retirees enjoyed bright and very secure futures in retirement. Pensions and retirement benefits from “Generous Motors” (aka General Motors) represented the “Cadillac” in retirement health care and was a gold standard in terms of pensions and stock options. Retirement benefits have been eroding slowly over the last 10-15 years and dramatically in the last 8 months. The crisis in the stock market, the banking industry, the mortgage lending fiasco and now the bankruptcy of Chrysler have hit everyone hard—and put deep fear in retirees and those soon to retire.

A silver lining in the current atmosphere of economic insecurity is that it is forcing people to think more about their retirement and whether they will have enough money to get by. As part of the Elder Economic Security Initiative, we have the opportunity to educate the public about how many people in retirement are not making ends meet now and do some forecasting for the future. The next step is giving people the tools to be pro-active.

We also have a chance to rethink housing and the delivery of long term care services for older adults and people with disabilities. The economic down turn exposes the limited supply of affordable and safe housing for families of modest means to the forefront of policy conversations. We also know that we have an inadequate number of home health care workers; their working conditions are grueling and their pay a travesty. Planning our communities with new mixed use affordable and accessible housing where nursing homes and other now defunct institutions previously stood would be a great way to bring direct care workers together with those who need their services. Integrating affordable housing for home health care workers or family caregivers who have lost their jobs or given up their careers to assist loved ones is a green solution that reduces the cost of transportation, keeps communities together and offers new opportunities for older adults to support their families and share their stories and wisdom.

Adding a blended public/private pay system to the purchase of home help and other long term care services could increase the available jobs in the industry and get care to those who want to remain in their own homes, but for whom a nursing home (or similar) placement is the only alternative.

As families, friends and citizens rise to the challenge of the new economic realities, let’s rededicate ourselves during Older Americans Month to look for creative solutions to keep people together, create jobs, conserve energy and enhance our lives.

What does elder economic security mean for New Jersey?

Our New Jersey partner, the New Jersey Foundation for Aging blogs today about the great service programs in their state that help move elders toward economic security.

The New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA) will be releasing the New Jersey Elder Economic Security Initiative (NJ-EESI) next week. In preparation for these events, we have reached out to many stakeholders who share our concerns for Economic Security for people of all ages.

In these difficult economic times, it is easy to see how “aging into poverty” will become a serious issue. With the launch of the Initiative, NJFA is encouraging many people to advocate for economic security. We hope that legislators and policy makers will see the need to use the Elder Index as a bench mark for program eligibility. NJFA wants seniors themselves to see this data and become aware of support programs that they may qualify for. Furthermore, we hope all citizens of New Jersey will access the data and be proactive in advocating for, not only the economic security of seniors, but also for all generations.

There are many great programs to be commended in New Jersey, such as the Global Options Medicaid Waiver program and the Property Tax Reimbursement (Senior Freeze) program. There are also many valuable programs that can be expanded and made more accessible to seniors and intergenerational households. NJFA will continue to advocate for any supports that can help elders to close the gap. One in four seniors in NJ rely solely on Social Security as income, at an average of $14,285, that leaves many elders in a position where they may have to cut spending on food or medication. The stakeholders involved with NJ-EESI believe that elders deserve to age with dignity.

Civic Ventures Blogs About Elders!

Civic Ventures, an organization aimed at making sure elders have economic security through quality employment, shares its thoughts today.

Encore careers are one of many routes to a more holistic approach to ensuring the economic security of older Americans. To make certain that others understand the importance of encore careers in this holistic approach, please help us spread the word on how your encore career has made a difference in your life and others by blogging about your transition on May 1, during the "Blog About It: Elder Economic Security"event, sponsored by the Elder Economic Security Initiative team at Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW).

WISER Blogs About Women's Economic Security

The Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, an event co-sponsor, blogs today about women specifically and their lives in retirement. Check out the post here!

"Blog About It" Featured on the Huffington Post

Our co-sponsor, the Coalition on Human needs, have their "Blog About It" post featured on the Huffington Post. Check it out!

National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment Blogs About It!

The National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment, an event co-sponsor, blogs about the current economic crisis and how it's affecting elders.

As the current economic crisis deepens, the assets and net worth of older adults and younger people with disabilities – like that of all Americans – are also shrinking, forcing many to choose once again between paying for medications and paying for food or energy bills. However, as we mark the beginning of Older Americans Month, it is important to remember that there is a safety net for older adults – particularly those in need. Programs such as the Medicare Part D Extra Help/Low-Income Subsidy (LIS), the Medicare Savings Programs (MSP), Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as Food Stamps), State Pharmacy Assistance Programs (in many states), and more provide much-needed, valuable benefits for seniors with limited means.

Yet despite the existence of this safety net (and much intense outreach and enrollment work on the part of national, state and local agencies), millions of seniors who have limited incomes and resources qualify for, but are not yet enrolled in programs that help pay for prescription drugs, medical care, food or heat for their homes. Estimates show that somewhere between 1.8 and 3 million Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for, but not receiving, LIS. The enrollment rate in one of the MSPs is only 13 percent, and only about one-third of eligible seniors participate in SNAP.

At the National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment at the National Council on Aging, we are working to improve access to benefits for seniors and younger adults with disabilities, and we invite you to join us in this important work. You can find out if you or someone you know qualifies for benefits through BenefitsCheckUp, our free, confidential online Web service. Or if you’re an organization working on benefits access issues, email us to let us know how you’re working to improve benefits access for seniors in your state. We look forward to hearing from you!

Pension Rights Center Blogs About Elder Economic Security

The Pension Rights Center, an event co-sponsor, is blogging today about the needs of elders on their blog, Perspectives. Check it out!

Thoughts from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare , an event co-sponsor, shares their thoughts today on what needs to be done for elders, regarding health care, to attain economic security on their blog. Check it out!

What does elder economic security mean for Minnesota?

Our Minnesota partner, the Minnesota Women's Consortium, shares today how the idea of retirement has changed over the years and how some Minnesota elders are struggling to get by on their blog. Read the full post here.

May 1st Thoughts From A Board Member

Martha Holstein, an Elder Economic Security Initiative Board Member, from Chicago's Health & Medicine Policy Research Group shares her thoughts today on why elder economic security is part of a greater need of solidarity and security across generations.

Divided We Fall: Economic Security and Intergenerational Solidarity

Amidst all the current economic turmoil Social Security and Medicare are there—the only guaranteed source of income one can’t outlive and health care that no one can take away. These guarantees are critical for older people and for their families. If these programs were weakened, needs would have to be met by someone and that someone is most likely one’s sons and daughters. The entire family would lose. We need to think of old age entitlements as family benefits, a contribution to the family commons and absolutely essential to mitigating threats to the health and well-being of the entire family. The family commons implies that we need to share our common goods with each of us not taking more than we need—and sometimes perhaps taking less than we need. Intergeneration solidarity rather than intergenerational equity

There is another reason to commit to intergenerational solidarity. Research makes it very clear that continuity in life circumstances is prevalent. Rather than these circumstances improving in old age, the older we get the more disadvantaged we become. Known as “cumulative disadvantage” it suggests how powerfully our family’s social and economic status, our education and our related opportunities are not easily overcome. Today, this is particularly unsettling since we know that young men are earning less than their fathers did at the same age. This statistic is apt to worsen as we see the results of the current economic downturn. The foretelling about the future condition of the aged, to be documented in the next generation’s Elder Standard, is a potent reason to act now to make sure that American’s younger families have a better shot at economic security. It is really for all of us!

What does elder economic security mean for Pennsylvania?

Our Pennsylvania partner, PathWays PA share their thoughts today on Pennsylvania's elders and what they need to make ends meet on their policy blog.

What does elder economic security mean for Connecticut?

Our Connecticut partner, the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women share their thoughts today on what elders need to be economically secure.

April 28th is National Pay Equity Day, May is older Americans month. Here in Connecticut, we understand that this is no coincidence.

Just as in a calendar year April precedes May, in the timeline of a woman’s life, issues of pay equity precede imbalanced life circumstances come retirement. The statistics of the wage gap are clear.
  • Women in Connecticut earn 78 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work.
  • Over her lifetime a woman with a high school degree will earn $700,000 less than a man with a high school degree.
  • A woman with a college degree will earn $1.2 million less than a man with a college degree over her lifetime.
  • A woman with an advanced degree will earn $2 million less than a man with an advanced degree over her lifetime.

These inequities add up over a lifetime-it would take a woman with typical earnings fifteen years to achieve the same life savings as a man. These savings are necessary to supplement social security in retirement. Social Security alone does not make ends meet.

  • The average Social Security benefit for a single woman in Connecticut is $12,600 per year, and nearly one half of older Connecticut women rely solely on this for their income.
  • Without additional retirement savings this leaves a gap between what’s needed and what’s earned that ranges between $7,000 - $40,000 dollars.

As we celebrate Older Americans Month this year, we know it is impossible not to connect the wage gap to the struggle to ensure economic security for older adults. Here in Connecticut We are dedicated to working towards economic security for women and their families throughout the lifespan.

May 1st thoughts from WOW

As we begin Older Americans Month, here are thoughts from WOW's Director of National Economic Security Programs on what Congress can do to ensure the economic security of elders.

In the face of today’s high and rising living costs, there must be a continuum of access to programs that help elders when their incomes fall short of the basic costs of living. Expanded access to programs will require changes, outreach, and funding—at both the federal and state levels—to ensure that elders maintain a roof over their heads, food on their table, and prescriptions needed to manage health conditions as they age. To ensure economic security for all elders, advocates, policymakers and caregivers must:

1. Defend Retirement Income: Erosion of the progress that has been made on behalf of elder economic security must be reversed by supporting and strengthening Social Security, expanding (or providing) worker savings opportunities such as defined contribution and benefits plans, and resisting the temptation to again balance budgets on the backs of seniors by freezing the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) and cutting Medicaid.

2. Support housing trust funds, affordable housing development, housing assistance and homeowner tax exemptions for elders struggling to make ends meet.

3. Adjust unreasonably low income and asset limits among public support programs including SSI. Average Social Security incomes and average retirement incomes often exceed eligibility limits, but leave single elders well short of the income needs indicated by their local Indexes.

4. Promote equitable and rational policy by using the Elder Economic Security Standard Index (the Index) in evaluating existing policies and developing new policies for older adults. The Index is a realistic, geography-based measure of need that can be used to guide policies and programs, and to determine more realistic income eligibility guidelines and funding levels for critical public supports. The Index also provides a tool to help direct service providers benchmark an elder’s movement toward economic security.