As Hubert Humphrey once said, a key “moral test” of any government is how it treats “those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly.” With the population of elderly Americans poised to nearly double over the next decade, we need to make sure that seniors can depend on quality healthcare, financial security, and freedom from abuse and neglect for the rest of their golden years. Seniors are vital to our families and our communities, and they are human beings deserving of our respect and admiration. I fought every day for seniors as a Congressman, and I will continue to be their champion in the White House.
During my time in Congress, I met with seniors nearly every weekend at senior centers, care facilities, and nursing homes across my district. It was an honor and a privilege to listen to their stories and learn from them. I was proud to have the opportunity to fight for them on Capitol Hill, and I built a strong record on issues that impact their lives. I introduced and passed through the House the first Elder Abuse Victims Act in 17 years, which aimed to protect America’s seniors from physical, mental, and financial abuse. If the Senate had passed the legislation, it would have corrected failures in state elder abuse policies and established a Center for the Prosecution of Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation; funded Elder Abuse Victims’ Advocacy Grants; and established specialized prosecution and research departments for training prosecutors and law enforcement on best practices for handling these cases. We still need to pass similar legislation today.
I consistently supported laws to support senior citizens, including to fund the National Institute of Aging; to provide NIH funding for Alzheimer’s disease research, programs, and caregiver support; to ensure seniors have access to free flu shots and preventative screenings for diseases like diabetes; to stop doctors from leaving Medicare by reversing a 10% decrease in physician reimbursement; and to fund the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which monitors companies for fraud, scams, and predatory lending, and protects seniors from these scammers and fraudsters. I also co-sponsored the Medicare Prescription Drug Negotiation Act to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. A similar piece of legislation — H.R. 1046, the Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act — is currently before Congress, and I urge my former colleagues to pass it. The fact that federal law still prohibits Medicare from negotiating for the best drug prices is disgraceful.
Beyond lowering drug costs, the government needs to do a better job of reining in the exorbitant costs of Medicare fraud to ensure that the system remains sustainable for future generations. As much as 10% of Medicare spending constitutes fraudulent claims — as much as $60 billion in 2013 — and only $4.3 billion in funds expended on fraudulent claims were recovered. The good news is that we have good programs to track down the fraudsters. The bad news is that Congress in recent years has cut significant funding to such programs. We can recoup $7.90 for every dollar spent on these anti-fraud programs, so these are programs we cannot afford to cut and indeed should expand. We can achieve bipartisan agreement on this, especially when it means our seniors will reap the benefits of a more solvent Medicare system.
We must also work hard to ensure that Social Security remains solvent for future generations. Under President Reagan, Social Security’s taxable income cap covered 90% of all nationwide wage and salary income, with those earning above the cap contributing nothing on that income. Today, just 83% of all income is covered, as earnings above today’s $132,900 cap have greatly increased — and almost all the loss in covered income has gone to the highest earners. We need to increase that cap so it is no longer so regressive — with the burden of paying into the system overwhelming felt by lower-income workers — and look at various other pieces of the Social Security puzzle. I have also proposed increasing payroll taxes for those earning about $250,000 — and while currently the proceeds of such taxes only benefit the Medicare program, they could benefit Social Security as well. Of course, we must also hold the line against Republican attempts to privatize both of these vital programs that have given security and peace-of-mind to seniors for generations.
As President, I promise to keep fighting for seniors to be able to live dignified lives safe from harm and neglect. Elder abuse remains at epidemic levels, yet it is barely ever discussed. Recent estimates put the annual number of elder abuse victims at 4 million, with the vast majority of cases — a shocking 90% — going unreported. We need Congress to act and pass legislation like the Elder Abuse Victim Act I wrote and passed through the House nearly a decade ago. Such a law would include provisions for advocacy grants, funding for prosecution of elder abuse cases, and evaluate the effectiveness of state and federal programs intended to fight elder abuse. We also need to restore the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to its full powers, which have been gutted by the current administration. The CFPB is a frontline organization standing up for seniors against companies that seek to take advantage of them with fraud, scams, and predatory lending. As President, I will make certain it is able to carry out its important mission.
Another important way to ensure dignity for our seniors is to help them stay in their homes for the long term. Of the 8 million Americans receiving long-term care, almost 60 percent receive their services at home. Many seniors understandably prefer this option because of the comfort and familiarity of home. It is also often less expensive than nursing home care, at least for those who need home care workers to be present for less than 10 hours per day. Yet for too many seniors who would prefer it, home care is not an option, in large part due to a shortage of home care workers. And despite the high demand for home care workers, wages for home care work are quite low, at roughly $10 per hour. There is no single solution to this problem, but by taking a combination of steps we can gradually move toward filling the supply gap and alleviating the financial burden on families.
First, we can raise wages across the board. A higher minimum wage will give more dignity to the home care workers who treat our elders with dignity. It will also make the job more attractive to potential home care workers. Second, we need to consider increasing work visas for foreign home care workers based on analysis of all available data so that immigrant workers are filling a genuine need, not only driving down wages for current home care workers. Third, we should provide adequate tax credits and deductions for family members who provide care for their elders; for example, at present you can only deduct medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of your gross income; this should be lowered to 5 percent. And finally, given that Alzheimer’s disease almost always leads to long-term care, and that one in eight Americans over 65 suffers from Alzheimer’s, we must invest in finding a cure. Not only would a cure save families the pain of seeing a loved one fall victim to this terrible disease — the money invested in finding a cure would generate untold dividends in decreasing the cost of elder care.
Lastly, the government should be making more efforts to encourage and incentivize seniors to take a more active role in their communities. It’s great for seniors, and it’s great for the rest of society, especially young people, to be exposed to the wisdom and experience of our elders. I was proud to author bipartisan legislation to create the “Silver Scholarship Program” which authorized the Corporation for National and Community Service to award grants through public agencies or private non-profits to provide scholarships to volunteers over the age of 55 who perform at least 250 hours of community service. The scholarships could be transferred to another individual, such as a grandchild. I also introduced and passed legislation to enhance the Service Corps of Retired Executives program, a critical Small Business Administration entrepreneurial development program providing business owners with free counseling from former executives. Such programs help make seniors feel valued and appreciated in our society and give young people a tangible reason to value and appreciate them.