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Advocates Speak Out: Bob Blancato (Part 2)

In preparation for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging starting today, Seniors Speak Out’s Nona Bear spoke with Bob Blancato, a long-time advocate for older Americans who has been involved in the past three White House Conferences on Aging, twice in leadership roles. Below is the second part of the two part conversation. To read the first, click here.

Part Two

Nona Bear (NB): What is the greatest challenge for these Conferences?

Bob Blancato (BB): In 1995, the political tone was a bit different than previous Conferences and many felt the aging programs were being threatened, which made the delegates that came much more defensive of the programs. It was sort of a battle of wills, but as a result the number one resolution became to preserve Social Security now and for the future.

NB: Since you have had the unique position of being an executive director of the Conference and an attendee, can you tell us a bit about how you think we can make sure the gains and achievements from each year are implemented and not lost?

BB: In 1995, we developed a policy that said no more than 50 resolutions would be adopted and we would have a distinct “Top 10” group that delegates would vote on. That same year, we also committed to doing a series of post-Conference grassroots activities to help move recommendations forward. We’ve been fortunate in the past to have bipartisan legislators that have taken recommendations from the Conferences and translated them into policy. I’m confident, now that the aging advocacy world is far bigger than it used to be, we’ll be able to move the things that emerge from this year’s Conference into something more concrete.

NB: What would you like to see come out of this year’s Conference?

BB: In the broad sense, we’ve got to deal with issues surrounding long-term care. We’ve got to step up on a bipartisan basis to come up with ideas and solutions that address the greatest fiscal liability that is confronting the boomer generation. I think the potential is there.

In the healthy aging space I would like to see us start getting practical about the basic things you can do throughout your lifespan to improve aging, such as developing good nutrition, the importance of education, maintaining the ability for older workers to be properly trained so they can continue to contribute and understanding from a preventative health standpoint why Medicare Part D is as important as it is. It isn’t just that older people have access to prescription drugs; it’s that they now have access to a better way of living because they have medications to help them. Within that we also have to make sure we tackle the growing concern about medication adherence.

In the long-term services category, I’d like to see an honest conversation about what we need to do. In terms of elder justice, I’d like to see us put the necessary resources into place to prevent elder abuse.

NB: One thing I know will come up is Medicare, and how it has improved the lives of seniors. How should we frame the discussion both at the Conference and afterwards?

BB: The important thing is to have a framework about what in Medicare has to be modernized. When I talk to older individuals, I tell them that when Medicare first started it was the best program to treat you once you were sick, but it didn’t do a lot to prevent you from being sick in the first place. That’s the new direction of Medicare. There have been more preventative measures added to Medicare in the past 10 years than in the past 40 years of its history. I think the focus on offering preventative benefits will save money down the road.

I would also like to see this Conference come out with a strong reaffirmation on the importance of Part D and particularly with a strong statement assuring the protection for low-income seniors moving forward.

To learn more about this year’s White House Conference on aging, visit their website.