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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Hello in There: Are older Coloradans getting the information they need?

September 27, 2010

To date myself just a little…in the 1970s, a folk/blues singer favorite of mine was John Prine. John composed and sang songs that framed many of the hard social issues of the day in gritty and oftentimes controversial lyrics. One of my all-time favorite John Prine songs is Hello in There. Contrary to many of his in-your-face cynical commentaries of modern society, Hello in There is a highly sensitive song about growing old in a society that relegates old people to the fringes of community.

A couple of lines from Hello in There, "You know that old trees just grow stronger and old rivers grow wilder every day, but old people just grow lonely, waiting for someone to say, ‘hello in there, hello’…so if you’re walking down the street sometime and pass some hollow ancient eyes, just don’t pass them by and stare as if you didn’t care, say, ‘Hello in there, hello.’"

I had the privilege of speaking to seniors that attend the Health Passport series sponsored by St. Anthony’s Central last week about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). I led two sessions on two separate days. The first was a general session about major provisions of PPACA; the second focused on provisions affecting seniors directly, largely changes to Medicare but also the opportunities available to states to transform long-term care to a person-centered, community-based system from one that has been historically institutional-based (nursing homes).

Having spent 25+ years doing aging and long-term care policy research before coming to Colorado in 2003, I found this opportunity to speak to local seniors about PPACA a personally rewarding one, checking in with a constituency group I formally joined last year when I signed up for Medicare. The good news—the presentations were very well received and all in attendance were grateful that CHI was there to reach out and inform citizens with objective information about a highly controversial and divisive piece of federal legislation. The bad news—after 30+ years of federal funding for information and referral centers in (almost) every community in the country, including specific Medicare counseling programs funded through the Older Americans Act, no one in attendance knew about these resources in their own community.

By 2030, Colorado will have more than 1.3 million residents age 65 and older, including 600,000 who are 75 years or older. I want to implore all of us, elected officials, advocacy groups and health foundations alike, to not forget this important voting constituency. Older Coloradans crave objective, accurate information about how health reform will affect them, their children and grandchildren. Equally important, we need to better understand why older adults, growing in number and political influence as the boomers age, are so uninformed about issues that affect their daily lives in profound ways. CHI will be issuing a white paper on long-term care in early October. I hope you will visit our website and inform yourself about the magnitude of the affected population and the human and societal costs involved in providing quality long-term care services to older Coloradans. CHI, as always, appreciates your feedback about our work and how we can make it most relevant to you.