Opinion: Why California’s next governor must focus on seniors

November 2, 2018

Opinion: Why California’s next governor must focus on seniors

By Eric Dowdy
The Sacramento Bee
November 2, 2018

On Tuesday, California will choose a new governor, but one issue that has not received nearly enough attention during the campaign is our state’s aging population and its associated challenges, such as health care, long-term care, supportive services and housing.

The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that by the year 2030 the over 65 population will increase by 4 million. That is only 12 short years away, and still the state has yet to implement a coordinated plan to address the needs of its rapidly aging population.

Today, too many Californians suffer from skyrocketing housing and living costs. For our seniors, many of whom do not have enough saved for retirement, those costs are growing exponentially. And increasing rents and dwindling affordable housing options for seniors are already straining social service agencies and state resources.

Besides housing challenges, the increasing number of seniors could overwhelm an already fragile health care system. In 2014, beneficiaries 65 and older accounted for 9 percent of the Medi-Cal population, but 35 percent of total spending and 33 percent of hospital days. In contrast, the 82 percent of Medi-Cal recipients who are low income accounted for only 31 percent of hospital days.

Poor health is often the result of social, behavioral and economic factors that can be improved by supportive services such as housing, transportation and nutrition assistance, which can reduce the need for more costly medical care. Yet, the state’s lack of a coordinated plan has left our seniors with limited access to the services they need.

What Californians need is for our new elected leaders to put the coming crisis of senior care at the top of their priority list. They must not only identify and define the core challenges of seniors, but find clear and achievable solutions.

Simply put, we need a master plan for aging that replaces California’s disjointed and fragmented approach and that prepares us for the crisis we all know is coming. To their credit, both candidates for governor have pledged to create a master plan. But Californians need to hold them accountable.

For too long, the issues plaguing our older adults, families and caregivers have been ignored while others have dominated the state’s news and political discussions. Just as we have led the nation on crucial reforms in the past, it is time for California to lead the nation again by developing a master plan for aging that enables all residents to age with dignity.

Eric Dowdy is executive vice president at LeadingAge California, an advocacy group for nonprofits that provide senior living and care. He can be contacted at edowdy@leadingageca.org.

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