Our country is entering a new era; each day 9,000 people celebrate their 65th birthday in the United States. As our population ages and becomes more diverse, health, community, and long-term care providers will be called upon to serve older adults in a way that is respectful and culturally appropriate.
Communities are confronting this challenge head-on, coming together, determined to provide our nation’s older adults the resources they need to age gracefully in their homes and communities.
I witnessed this collaboration last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when I was invited to participate in a community forum hosted by Equality New Mexico and the Senior Citizens Law Office. We discussed the unique barriers lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults encounter in gaining access to housing, health care, long-term care and other needed services.
The President's health care law gives hard working, middle-class families the security they deserve. The Affordable Care Act forces insurance companies to play by the rules, prohibiting them from dropping your coverage if you get sick, billing you into bankruptcy through annual or lifetime limits, and, soon, discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition.
The law is already helping millions of older Americans.Over five million people with Medicare saved over $3 billion on their prescriptions in 2010 and 2011. And everyone with Medicare can get an annual Wellness Visit with their doctor, as well as key preventive services like cancer screenings at no cost.
Additionally, under the direction of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established an interagency committee that coordinates and develops policies aimed to improve the health and well being of LGBT individuals.
I am honored to serve as Co-Chair of this Committee, alongside Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, and Deputy General Counsel Ken Choe, and I was pleased to give the group in New Mexico an update on the Department’s progress, particularly in areas impacting older adults:
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released new rules for all hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid (nearly every hospital in the country) requiring them to respect the rights of patients to designate their visitors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- CMS issued guidance to States making clear that same-sex partners may be afforded treatment comparable to other spouses when it comes to receiving long-term care, such as care in a nursing home, under Medicaid. CMS also clarified that States have the flexibility to protect assets, such as a couple’s home, in the event that same-sex partners must receive nursing home care through Medicaid.
- HHS plans to greatly enhance the collection of health data on LGBT populations, including older adults. This data will help researchers, policy makers, health care providers, and advocates identify and address health disparities.
- Lastly, my agency, the Administration on Aging, established the first-ever LGBT Resource Center on Aging that provides technical assistance to public and private organizations on how to serve the unique needs of LGBT older adults.
I was encouraged by the commitment and opportunities for community collaboration in the cities and rural areas of New Mexico. Their efforts to provide free and low cost legal services, quality health care and housing, and a safe environment where LGBT older adults can come together in times of happiness and sorrow, is admirable and necessary.
This Administration will continue to work diligently so that their vision of equality becomes a reality everywhere.
Kathy Greenlee is the Assistant Secretary for Aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.