Why You Should Care About the 2015 White House Conference on Aging

This year is a significant anniversary date for a number of Federal programs that impact all Americans—it’s the 80th anniversary of Social Security and the 50th anniversary of Medicaid, Medicare and the Older American Act. The impact of these programs in funding healthcare services and providing security for seniors cannot be overstated. As the American population ages these programs will be of greater importance, especially with seniors no longer having the safety net of a company pension and facing increasing healthcare costs that accompany living longer. And when you consider the other lesser-known issues of aging, such as who is going to care for the aging population and how to serve under-represented populations of seniors, the situation seems insurmountable when taking into account the coordination of services and funding required across all three levels of government and with nonprofit organizations.

Since 1961 the White House Conference on Aging has served as an opportunity for government, nonprofits and senior advocates to discuss how the policies related to aging can be improved or expanded to better serve older Americans. The conference is held once each decade, and 2015 marks this decade’s conference. Before the actual conference scheduled later this year, there are a series of forums hosted around the country. April 2 was Seattle’s turn to host the forum, and Cleveland and Boston will host theirs in April and May respectively.

The issues and ideas that are discussed at these forums will serve as discussion points at the 2015 White House Conference on Aging scheduled for later this year in Washington, DC. Though these forums are invite only, as is the conference, the public is invited to share their thoughts and stories on aging. The 2015 White House Conference on Aging website is the one-stop place to submit comments and view webcasts of the forums.

At the Seattle forum there were two panel discussions, Healthy Aging/Long-term Supports and Services and Retirement Security/Elder Justice. The topics discussed included the need to provide services for under-served senior populations, the increased costs associated with living longer and how to develop more effective resources for protecting seniors from abuse. One comment that struck me was said by Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. She said that a century ago, death wasn’t associated with old age, as it was common for someone of any age to become ill and die two weeks later. Now, thanks to technology and science, people expect to live into their 70s and 80s, if not into their 90s. While this is cause for celebration, as who doesn’t want to see grandparents or parents live longer, it also has societal ramifications that we must now face and address within the next decade as the baby boomers enter retirement.

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