Q: What policies are you pursuing to help older Americans, especially during the pandemic?
A: Since COVID-19 first was identified in February at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, the novel coronavirus has impacted older citizens in communities across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the infectious disease poses greater risk to older populations, especially those with underlying health conditions. The unprecedented effort to slow the spread of the virus and curb transmissions and infections is particularly acute for older residents in the nation’s nursing homes, memory care facilities and other residential care communities and for the health professionals who provide their around-the-clock care. The number of COVID-19 deaths linked to long-term care facilities, including residents and workers, accounts for a disproportionate share of coronavirus fatalities in the United States. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has legislative and oversight jurisdiction of Medicare and Medicaid, I work to ensure these public health care programs effectively serve older Americans. Medicaid pays for the lion’s share of nursing home care in the United States. During the pandemic, I’ve worked closely with the Trump administration to prioritize nursing homes and ensure they have the emergency medical equipment they need to protect staff and residents. Following my request for more transparency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) required nursing homes to report COVID-19 cases in nursing homes directly to the CDC and to post testing data online. In addition, Congress swiftly approved a series of laws to respond to the coronavirus pandemic that support the health and well-being of older Americans, including $1,200 direct financial assistance payments, expanded Medicare telehealth coverage, and enhanced funding and flexibility for nutrition assistance and community-based programs delivered under the umbrella of the Older Americans Act, such as home delivered meals. Earlier this year, I helped secure a five-year renewal of the Older Americans Act that makes critical resources available to the nation’s network of Area Agencies on Aging to provide community-based services for older residents and individuals with disabilities so they may live independently and enjoy a higher quality of life. I’m glad President Trump directed the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to deliver emergency supplies of personal protective equipment to more than 15,000 nursing homes in local communities across the country. The health care professionals caring for loved ones in the nation’s nursing homes are on the front lines of the pandemic. They need proper protective equipment as they care for patients from one room to the next. That’s also why I’ve called upon CMS to step up enforcement of infection control to protect our nation’s most vulnerable citizens throughout the pandemic and beyond.
Q: What reforms are you seeking to curb elder abuse and exploitation?
A: As former chairman of the Senate Aging and Judiciary Committees and now from the helm of the Senate Finance Committee, I leverage my leadership platforms to improve the quality of life for older Americans, such as my efforts to reduce prescription drug prices, curb age-related work discrimination and protect seniors from fraud and abuse. Within the next decade, all of the nation’s baby boomers will reach age 65 and older. Many older Americans depend on prescription medications to manage chronic health conditions and treat and cure disease. Iowans regularly share stories of financial hardship to pay for life-saving medicines, such as insulin. For two years I’ve built a bipartisan coalition with Sen. Ron Wyden to address the soaring costs of prescription drugs in America. Now more than ever, the pandemic underscores why Americans need affordable, innovative pharmaceutical treatments. Our Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA) would reduce out-of-pocket costs for seniors, bring stability and transparency to drug prices and save taxpayer dollars without hampering innovation and investment in pharmaceutical research and cures.
Unfortunately, criminals and wrongdoers are taking advantage of the pandemic to target older citizens with financial schemes and scams. Advocates say one in 10 Americans age 60 or older has experienced exploitation or abuse. As author of the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act of 2017, I’m working to further strengthen tools to help prevent these crimes. My legislation established an elder justice coordinator in the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. This month I introduced bipartisan legislation with Senators Susan Collins and Bob Menendez that would enhance training resources to more effectively serve Americans with Alzheimer’s disease who fall prey to exploitation and abuse. The FTC is tracking a surge in COVID-19 fraud complaints, including travel offers, online shopping, bogus text messages and imposters posing as government representatives. Americans have reported losing nearly $37 million to fraud since January, with a median loss of $470. To report fraud, go to ftc.gov/complaint. For personalized attention free-of-charge, contact the Department of Justice Elder Fraud Hotline at (833) FRAUD-11. A case manager will walk you through the reporting process and connect you with additional resources and agencies. Reporting financial fraud within the first 2-3 days increases the chances for recovering losses. The DOJ hotline is open 7 days a week.
May is Older Americans Month. The theme for 2020 is Make Your Mark. Let’s honor caregivers and pay tribute to the indelible mark older people make across society, especially those who have served our nation in uniform.