Juneau, AK delegates discuss aging at White House

Conference resolutions ask for change to be made ahead of baby boomers retiring

Posted: Friday, December 30, 2005

A group of Alaska delegates returned from a conference on aging this month hoping the government doesn't ignore the problems foreseen for baby boomers nearing retirement age.

The state's delegates submitted 28 resolutions addressed to Congress and various federal agencies calling for action related to Social Security, Medicare and rising health costs across the nation. They were written by the Alaska Commission on Aging with input from the delegates.

The White House Conference on Aging is held every 10 years in Washington, D.C.

Juneau delegate Loraine Derr, one of seven from Alaska, said the event coincided with many baby boomers turning 60 next year. And that age group will likely be around for quite a while, she said.

At present, 14,000 Americans are over age 100. But between 2030 and 2040, that number is expected to increase to 1 million, she said.

"That's the scary part," said Derr, who wonders if federal and state governments will be prepared to care for an abundance of retirees.

According to the commission, more seniors are choosing to retire in Alaska, and the state has the second-fastest growing proportion of seniors among all the states. Within the next 25 years, Alaska's population that is 65 and older will more than triple.

"If it wasn't easier for us to stay in Alaska, we wouldn't be here," Derr said.

Alaska's seniors and future retirees, however, will share many of the same concerns as those across the nation, she said.

The resolutions called for a tax break for individuals providing in-home, long-term care services for family members who meet nursing home care standards as determined by a medical examination.

Nationally, the average annual cost of a private room in a nursing home is $69,400, or as high as $200,000 in Alaska, the commission reported. A private one-bedroom unit in an assisted-living facility has an average annual cost of $30,300. The average hourly rate for home health aides is $18.58.

Family caregivers provide care for no cost or an extremely low cost relative to all these alternative forms of care, the commission noted.

Seniors responding to the commission's survey this year pointed out the difficulty in locating a physician who will accept Medicare patients, especially in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

A resolution suggested federal and state governments encourage or provide incentives for doctors other than pediatricians to have a prescribed level of geriatric education as well as continuing education units in aging.

To help reduce health problems, the commission asks that the government and the health insurance industry emphasize prevention and wellness programs.

Alaska seniors are interested in prevention programs that are readily accessible to them in places such as senior centers, the commission said. But seniors, especially those on fixed incomes, are frustrated by medical coverage that does not pay for preventive care.

The resolutions also included a call to preserve Social Security as a defined benefit program.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com

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