The 7 Unsolved Mysteries of Aging in Public Policy

Debra Whitman, AARP Opens ASA Conference
Debra Whitman, AARP Opens ASA Conference

After some introductions, the ASA conference 2013 opened with some hard questions about public policy as it relates to aging, posed by Debra Whitman from AARP. Whitman called her talk the “7 Unsolved Mysteries of Aging in Aging Policy”

She said that she feel that the politicians in DC only see the aging society as a drain, as costly, and as something to be feared. She sees the influx of older people in our society as an opportunity, but she does feel there are many things that we need to do as a society.

Mystery #1. How can we encourage more to save more? Only half of businesses offer retirement, and many people do not save for retirement. She said, “We need to make saving for retirement fun!”

Mystery #2. How do we make certain nest eggs last for the rest of life? This is very hard to predict since interest rates and inflation and other factors affect savings and growth of funds.

Mystery #3. How do we encourage people to work longer while taking care of those that do not?
She reported that 4 in 10 workers retire earlier than planned. Even working a few years more would make a big difference.

Mystery #4. How can we help consumers play a bigger role in managing their own health & wellness?
She posed the issue that in no other industry does one buy services without knowing any costs at all, In our health care system cost is illusive.  She feels we need to educate patients to ask about treatment ordered, and test ordered, and prescriptions ordered to see if they are necessary. “Doctors need to be better communicators,” she said. One positive in the ACA is that there are incentives for health screenings, and those are free.

Mystery #5. How will we pay for long-term services and support? One report stated that of the boomers turning 65,  more than 70% will need some form of long term care. Currently 1/3 of all Medicaid expenditures goes to long term care. The ASA crowd gave family caregivers a great applause, and Debra notes that it is estimated that $450 billion dollars is the worth set on care given by family caregivers.  She feels that consumer demand will create person and family centered services in the future.

Mystery #6. How can society best deal with growing numbers of people with diminished mental capacity?
Currently 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s  disease and that number is expected to double by century’s end. To even start to meet the demand, better training and support plus a larger workforce is needed.

Mystery #7. How do we get politicians to look at the needs of an aging society? Our public policy as well as the health care delivery system is in silos. Pensions, health and retirement issues are all dealt with separately, and there needs to be an overall overhaul in how we are approaching the issues.

From the AARP website: Debra Bailey Whitman is AARP’s Executive Vice President, Policy and International. She is an authority on aging issues with extensive experience in national policymaking, domestic and international research, and the political process.