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White House Regional Conference on Aging: A Recap

In July, the White House hosted its 2015 Conference on Aging.  If you have been following the Seniors Speak Out blog, you are very aware of the event. In fact, I recently talked to Bob Blancato, a long-time advocate for seniors who has been involved in three of the previous White House Conferences on Aging (WHCOA), about this year’s conference.

Photo from whitehouseconferenceonaging.gov

Our discussion covered the history of the WHCOA and the important part it has played in developing policies for seniors in the past. You can check out part 1 of my interview with Bob here and part 2 here

In addition, after attending the conference, Bob wrote a recap of his experience in a column featured on Next Avenue. Bob summarized how the conference built off past successes but also highlighted what made it distinct. He touched on how, unlike in past conferences, the White House was much more involved. Also different from previous events was the format. This year, five regional forums (also summarized on our blog here) led up to the main conference, which featured a strong virtual component. While only 200 people attended in-person, over 600 people around the country registered to watch it live.

Bob discussed how the results of this year’s conference were significant:

“In the aggregate, they will both improve existing aging policy and programs and create new ways of improving the quality of life for people as they age. No fewer than 20 private-sector actions were announced at the conference. As they are implemented, they offer the real prospect to achieve positive change.”

President Obama’s policy remarks were also important to understanding future priorities of aging policy in the U.S. In his announcement, the President touched on policies related to retirement savings, food for the homebound, better access to resources, as well as justice and support for victims of elder abuse.

While Bob’s article emphasized the achievements of the 2015 conference, he concluded that the real marker of success will be the implementation of ideas and proposals laid forth at this year’s event:

“The prospect of real change emanating from this White House Conference on Aging is contingent, however, on full implementation of the proposals announced and other actions, such as reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, further implementation of the Affordable Care Act to strengthen Medicare, greater national attention to long-term care and ensuring that Social Security is strong now and in the future.”

You can learn more about the issues covered at this year’s conference by visiting the WHCOA website and watching some the videos covering conversations that took place here.

Thanks for following our coverage of this historic conference!



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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.



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Advocates Speak Out: Bob Blancato (Part 1)

In preparation for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging next week, 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 first part of the two part conversation. Be sure to check in tomorrow for the second part.

Part One

Nona Bear (NB): Can you explain your background when it comes to being an advocate for seniors? What are some of the issues you focus on?

Bob Blancato (BB): When Congressman Mario Biaggi of New York, my previous boss in Congress, became an original member of the House Select Committee on Aging in the late 1970s, his getting on the committee, and then becoming the chairman years later, gave me an unprecedented opportunity to become an advocate for older Americans. So it all came as a result of this work assignment. Today, many of the issues we work on are the same issues we’ve worked on in the past, such as promoting economic security for older individuals, ensuring quality of health, emphasizing the importance of the Older Americans Act, preventing elder abuse and combatting age discrimination. These are all issues that have transcended time and are still very important.

NB: Tell me a bit about your role in the past White House Conferences on Aging?

BB: I’ll have been to four of the six White House Conferences on Aging: 1981, 1995, 2005 and will be attending the upcoming one in 2015. I wish I had been at the 1971 Conference; it was such a dynamic event and had the largest crowd of any White House Conference. The best story that came out of it had to do with Richard Nixon who had Arthur Flemming as his executive director. They wanted Richard Nixon to announce the Older Americans Act so they prepared the speech and despite Arthur Flemming suggesting $50 million [to support the bill], Nixon came in and announced an initial support for $100 million. It is a thing everyone remembers, it blew everyone away.

NB: What has been the most remarkable achievement coming out of past Conferences?

BB: In addition to what Nixon did in 1971, the 1961 White House Conference on Aging laid the groundwork for the Great Society programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. The 1971 Conference also laid the groundwork for what became the National Institute on Aging and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. In 1981, the Conference was very contentious, but it addressed the contrasting views of what to do with Social Security at that point. The National Commission on Social Security Reform, informally known as the Greenspan Commission, was created as a result and it came up with the plan that saved Social Security from bankruptcy. It was a tough vote, but it fulfilled its mandate of preserving Social Security.



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The White House Conference on Aging: Regional Forum Wrap-Up

As you know if you have been following the blog for the past few months, the White House has been hosting a series of regional forums on aging as part of its preparation for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA), scheduled for July 13th. My friend and longtime senior advocate Bob Blancato has been closely following the events and sharing updates with you periodically. He has also been invited to attend the larger conference this month, so be sure to follow the conference’s live stream to stay updated on the action.

As in the regional forums, Bob will be encouraging participants to focus on some important issues that will enable seniors to lead longer, healthier lives. For example, Bob has long been a crusader for elder justice. In conjunction with the Cleveland forum, he wrote in the Logan Daily:

“Seniors are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect as they age, which results in both human and economic costs. According to the federal government, more than one in 10 people over 60, or six million older adults, are victims of elder abuse every year. Elder abuse can increase the risk of premature death, cause unnecessary illness and suffering and threaten the economic security of older Americans. For example, at least $2.9 billion is lost to financial exploitation of older adults each year. It impacts seniors across all economic, racial, and ethnic lines regardless of whether they are living independently, in assisted living or in a nursing home.”

In addition to elder justice, Bob has also been encouraging the White House to focus on nutrition as a key part of healthy aging.  He recently wrote on our blog:

“[G]ood nutrition practiced throughout the lifespan can lead to healthier aging. … [T]he three major chronic diseases that impact 87 percent of seniors—diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol or some combination—can be prevented and/or managed with appropriate nutrition interventions. Overall, lack of good nutrition drives up health care costs. … This is a critically important topic to address as a society which accomplishes healthy aging is stronger in all regards. I commend the WHCOA for including this as a goal, but would like to ensure that good nutrition is also a central focus.”

Bob has also highlighted seniors’ access to affordable, quality health care as a key concern. To learn more about the WHCOA, please visit their website.  Also, make sure to keep checking back with us leading up to the big event to find out all the latest, and consider signing up for the WHCOA mailing list or sharing your story!