Being heard is one of our greatest desires as humans. When our voices are silenced and our stories left untold, we feel insignificant and invisible. Unfortunately, in our society, aging adults are rarely given enough of a voice. But on July 3, during her visit to Institute on Aging (IOA), California Senator Kamala Harris let the voices of aging adults and their caregivers ring loud and clear.
Harris held a roundtable discussion at IOA with IOA clients and staff and SEIU local 2015, a long-term care union, to listen to concerns about how the Senate’s proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) would impact the aging adult population in California. She planned to take the stories she heard back to Washington to use them in further discussions about the proposal.
The well-attended event was a wonderful opportunity for aging adults and their service providers’ views on the BCRA to be heard. During the roundtable, attendees discussed whether the BCRA had the best interest of aging adults at heart. They covered how the BCRA could impact the aging population here in California, as well as the people and programs that serve them.
What the BCRA Would Have Meant for Aging Adults in California
The most significant way in which the BCRA would have impacted the aging population is its proposed changes to Medicaid funding. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid costs are shared by the state and the federal government with federal funding increasing to meet the state’s demand. The new healthcare proposal would have effectively reduced federal funding to Medicaid by putting a cap on spending by 2020 and switching to a per capita funding model.
As a result, Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, would have expected to see a 26% reduction in funding by 2026. With this proposed change in federal funding, the state of California would have been left with more than a $30 billion gap in Medicaid funding to fill over the next 10 years.
This shift would have dramatically changed aging adults’ access to long-term care in California. Medi-Cal currently provides funding for non-medical services for low-income aging adults, like home care and help with daily living tasks, making it possible for older adults to live comfortably, safely, and affordably at home. In addition to supporting independent living in the aging population, Medi-Cal also makes it possible for aging adults to have access to Medicare by reducing premiums and supplementing costs.
Why Community Living Is So Important to Aging Adults
If we consider that 47.5 million Americans are age 65 and older—a number that will likely triple by 2050—and many of these aging adults require long-term care, the impact the BCRA would have had on older adults trying to live independently in their communities is significant.
If Medi-Cal funding is ever slashed, many aging adults will not receive the financial support they need to hire caregivers—a demographic whose livelihoods caring for aging adults could be greatly diminished—making it more difficult to remain living in their homes. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sound alternative for aging adults if remaining at home is no longer possible due to funding. Hundreds of thousands of aging California adults residing in nursing homes who pay for their care through Medi-Cal could be displaced.
In addition to financial stress, significantly reducing the resources that make it possible for an aging adult to live in a community setting, instead of an institution, can create significant physical and mental stress. Older adults living in institutionalized settings, like nursing homes, tend to have significantly poorer physical and mental health outcomes than they do in community settings. And as our aging population grows, the negative effects of such stressors would increase, burdening older adults, their families, and even the healthcare system if they don’t get the non-medical help they need to live safely at home.
Politics aside, California is lucky enough to have a Senator who listens to the voices of those who are affected by proposed changes to healthcare, so it is important that we speak out for what we believe in. After all, older adults, just like the rest of us, deserve to live healthy, comfortable lives and age with dignity, respect, and grace. Our aging loved ones deserve to have us advocate for them, but most of all, they deserve to be heard, to be seen, and to tell their own stories.
At Institute on Aging, we connect aging adults to the resources they need to live healthy, independent lives—regardless of their political beliefs or affiliations. To learn more about our community-based services, contact us today.