Speeches and Statements

Rep. Murphy Committee Speech Ways and Means Full Committee Hearing on Caring for Aging Americans

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Washington, November 14, 2019 | comments

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And thank you to the witnesses for your testimony on this important issue.

There are different ways to measure the greatness of a nation. 

For example, we can look to whether the country is committed to protecting the fundamental freedoms of its citizens and to upholding certain universal values at home and abroad.

We can also look to the country’s economic strength, its military might, and the opportunities it provides to its people. 

Finally, and most relevant for today’s hearing, we can look to how the country treats the most vulnerable members of its population.  That includes the elderly, especially those who have serious disabilities or are experiencing cognitive decline. 

We ask ourselves:  does the nation provide a support system that enables men and women who have worked hard their whole lives to live their twilight years with a sense of dignity? 

Can they obtain the helping hand they need from qualified caregivers without depleting their savings or the savings of their families? 

The process of aging is hard enough as it is.  You don’t want the added difficulty of feeling like you have become a financial or emotional burden to family members and friends you love and who love you in return.

This issue means a lot to me.  I am one of the two members of this Committee who represent Florida.  And although I have one of the younger districts in the state, it’s a state where 20 percent of the population is over age 65.  That’s 4.2 million people.

In addition, of the 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease, about 560,000 live in Florida.  By the year 2025, that number is expected to be 720,000.  That’s a nearly 30 percent increase.

I have to tell you, in addition to the high cost of prescription drugs, the concern I hear most about from my older constituents is this exact issue.  They come up to me and express fear that they will not be able to afford to age with dignity and to age in place.  Most of them want to live at home for as long as possible, and not be compelled by circumstances to leave.  If they do have to receive institutional care, they want that care to be of good quality.  These are completely reasonable aspirations. 

However, as we’ve heard today, they are right to be worried—because our support system has significant gaps.

Today, individuals turning 65 have almost a 70 percent chance of needing some type of what we call “long-term services and supports”—from skilled nursing care, to personal care, to help with shopping or chores.

But contrary to popular perception, Medicare does not generally pay for such services.  Medicaid might, but only if a senior meets an income test.  So many seniors must pay out of pocket for these services or rely on unpaid care from family and friends.  That has all sorts of negative follow-on effects.

Turning from stating the problem to exploring solutions—and I’m sorry if I ask you to repeat something you’ve already said:

Mr. Mollot:  There are about four million Medicare beneficiaries in Florida, and about 45 percent of them have a Medicare Advantage plan.  Can you tell me about the extent to which MA plans are starting to cover LTSS services, as they were authorized to do by Congress in 2018?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about using MA as a partial solution to this challenge?

Mr. Blancato:  We need to shore up our support system, but doing so can have serious federal budget implications.  If you had to choose the one thing Congress could do right away to address this problem in a cost-effective way, what would it be?

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