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Health care crisis mounts as boomers reach retirement age

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The first of more than 78 million baby boomers will turn 60 this month, and the United States will face increasing challenges in providing for its elderly.

An Oklahoma State University researcher is urging aging Americans and their loved ones to ensure that Congress understands their needs.

“What I heard over and over again was that Congress readily admits it doesn’t have all the answers, and it really wants help deciding priorities on issues that are going to affect a growing number of elderly right away,” said Dr. Kathleen Briggs, professor, and head of the Human Development and Family Science department in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Briggs recently attended the White House Conference on Aging in Washington, D.C. Appointed by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn to represent Oklahoma; she joined 1,200 other delegates to help develop and approve a “top 10” list that Congress and the president are expected to review as early as March.

“The conference is held only once every decade,” Briggs said. “The delegates there represented a wide range of expertise from researchers like me to those providing services directly to the elderly so it was a real privilege to participate.”

Issues on the top 10 list that emerged from the conference included greater accessibility to care for rural elderly people, strengthening and improving Medicare and Medicaid, better training for health care professionals and other elderly care providers, and improved coverage for mental health assessment and treatment, which goes beyond addressing Alzheimer’s and dementia among the elderly.

“One of the problems we face today is that services for seniors are often concentrated in higher population areas, but Oklahoma is a largely rural state,” Briggs said. “Many in our rural communities won’t be properly served if we don’t do something about making services more accessible for them.”

Other critical issues included ensuring that older Americans have transportation options to maintain mobility and independence while improving state and local delivery systems. Reauthorizing the Older Americans Act, supporting public and private sector initiatives, and promoting non-institutional care models also made the list headed for Capitol Hill and the White House.

While Briggs was glad to be among those who offered some of the first recommendations on aging issues in the last 10 years, she urges others to get involved.

“Stay tuned because this is really going to be important,” she said. “In the meantime, let your congressional delegation know what your needs are because your voice is important, people are listening and you can make a difference.”

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