Comprehensive legislation was introduced Wednesday in the Senate to reauthorize and expand the Older Americans Act, the landmark law that supports Meals on Wheels and other essential programs for seniors. Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, introduced the bill with 14 co-sponsors.
"Millions of seniors today are hurting financially and we must give them the support they need to stay healthy in their homes and communities," said Sanders. The Older Americans Act has saved taxpayer dollars, he stressed, by reducing health care expenses. "Investing in proper nutrition saves the government money by keeping people out of emergency rooms and hospitals and allows them to stay at home where they want to be."
"As Vermont's population ages, we must ensure that seniors have the support they need to continue to lead healthy and productive lives," added Sen. Patrick Leahy, a co-sponsor. "This renewal bill offered by Sen. Sanders will help achieve that goal by offering continued federal support for such vital efforts as nutrition programs, home care, coordination of long-term care and health care, job training and legal services."
Originally enacted in 1965 along with Medicare and Medicaid, the Older Americans Act was the first initiative by the federal government to provide comprehensive assistance to seniors. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day and with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, help for seniors is needed now more than ever.
Among the new programs for seniors and their families, the legislation would authorize funding for the coordination of dental care to low-income older Americans, focus more on economic security and provide special assistance to veterans, Holocaust survivors and LGBT seniors. The legislation also includes increased support for family caregivers and would make gerontologists and geriatricians eligible for the National Health Services Corps.
Under another initiative, the Bureau of Labor Statistics would be required to improve how it calculates inflation to more accurately reflect seniors' out-of-pocket expenses for health care and prescription drugs. A cost-of-living measure tailored to the real-world expenses of seniors could be used to make more accurate annual adjustments in Social Security benefits, for example. The Alliance for Retired Americans said that the provision in the bill is "vital to the health and economic security of millions of older Americans and their families."
In addition to Sanders and Leahy, the other co-sponsors include Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate leader, John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).