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Conference on Aging Forums Kick Off in Florida

Experts take a deep dive into health and financial issues

By Liza Kaufman Hogan

The White House Conference on Aging just hosted the first in a series of regional forums in Tampa, Fla. in advance of the main conference to be held later this year. 

“It's fitting that we are here in Tampa. When Ponce de León came to Florida ... he was looking for the fountain of youth," said the conference's Executive Director, Nora Super. "Today we come to Florida charting a course for living — not just longer lives — but better lives.” 

Setting the Agenda

Co-sponsored by AARP and planned with the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the gathering featured remarks from Florida public officials plus panel discussions on health- and long-term care and financial security and elder abuse led by local and national experts on aging. 

(MORE: What If We Stopped Fearing Aging?)

The regional forums are designed to address the four, broad policy areas the White House Conference on Aging is focusing on: healthy aginglong-term services and supportsretirement security and elder justice. Participation is by invitation only, but all events are accessible to the public via webcast through HHS. Materials gathered through the regional forums (there are four more scheduled this year) will be compiled and used to plan discussions for the main conference in Washington, D.C. this summer. (The date has not yet been announced.) 

The goal of the once-a-decade conference, last held in 2005, is to examine and discuss challenges related to aging in the U.S; propose policy recommendations for Congress and the president and suggest things the public can do to improve the quality of life for themselves and older adults in general. 

Obamacare Gets Praise

Although the conference and forums aim for bipartisanship, this didn't stop speakers from wading into politics. Several praised the controversial Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) for helping older adults with free prevention services for Medicaid recipients, annual wellness visits and the Elder Justice Act. Several called for the renewal of the Older Americans Act which is before Congress now, and others urged increased funding for social service programs as well as legislative action to preserve Social Security for future generations.

There was also a good deal of talk about self-empowerment for financial and physical health, and the director for elder affairs for Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott stressed the importance of spending taxpayer money wisely in addressing senior needs.  

Here are some highlights from the discussions. You can watch the full, three-hour Tampa regional forum here.  

(MORE: Transforming Life As We Age)

Healthy Aging and Caregiving

Super moderated the first panel on healthy aging and long-term care, leading a discussion with Dr. Martha Pelaez, Healthy Aging Regional Collaborative Director, Health Foundation of South Florida; Dr. Anand Parekh, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, HHS; Dr. Naushira Pandya, a national expert on geriatric care and Linda J. Levin, leader of one of Florida's Area Agencies on Aging. 

Quotes and ideas from the panel included these: 

  • "Longevity is the gift of the 21st century" and healthy aging is the way to enjoy that gift. 
  • "Building age-friendly cities is essential for healthy aging." 
  • "Older families," or those in which all members are over 60, need help, too. 
  • "Public-private partnerships are the way forward." 
  • Skilled nursing facilities need more oversight and structure. They are no longer the "rest homes" of the past. 
  • Special attention needs to be paid to people with disabilities who are living longer and their caregivers, who are aging, too.  
  • The number of people with dementia is rising and most are being cared for by family members at home.  
  • The need for translators and translation technology is growing in our multicultural society. An "older person feels most comfortable speaking in their native language." 

Tackling the Retirement Gap and Elder Abuse 

The second panel, on retirement security and elder justice, was moderated by Nancy LeaMond, AARP's executive vice president of social impact. Panel guests included Rebecca Morgan, an elder law professor at Stetson University College of Law; Patty Ducayet, state long-term care ombudsman for Texas; Jack VanDerhei, research director of the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Vickie Elisa, a financial security advocate for women.
Highlights from this panel included these: 

  • "One out of every 10 people age 60 and older who live at home suffer abuse, neglect or exploitation." 
  • "Social Security is the bedrock of retirement security" in the U.S. and the sole source of income for half of current beneficiaries. 
  • 55 million American workers do not have access to a workplace retirement savings program. 
  • In 2014, 58 percent of boomers and Gen X'ers were projected to have a secure retirement. For married couples, the figure is 73 percent; for single women, only 42 percent. 
  • "Think of retirement planning as a 35-year pregnancy."
  • People are more likely to participate in a 401(k) if there is an employee match. If more employers offered a match of any amount, more people would join. 
  • Voluntary, auto-enrollment retirement plans are effective and the numbers of participants have increased dramatically since laws changed in 2006 making it easier to offer them. 
  • To avoid consumer fraud — keep track of personal information, review credit card and bank statements carefully, check credit scores regularly, be wary of people who arrive at your door offering home repair services, and learn to say 'no.' 

(MORE:  Five Steps to Combat Elder Financial Abuse)

What's Next? 

Following the panel discussions, the participants convened for small-group discussions to collect further information for the conference. The next White House Conference on Aging forums will be: 

  • March 31, Phoenix, Ariz. 
  • April 2, Seattle, Wash.
  • April 27, Cleveland, Ohio
  • May 28, Boston, Mass. 


Liza Kaufman Hogan is a freelance writer. Read More
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