We need a National Village Elder, someone whose sole mission it is to advocate for Americans older than 65. I know we have President Biden, and he is a role model for fitness, public service and vigor as he heads toward his 80th birthday.
Still, we need someone whose only responsibility is the legal, emotional, financial and health support of people over 65. As of the 2019 census, there were 54.1 million of us. The numbers are growing, and the issues of senior health care, financial stability and aging at home are growing, too.
Do you know who Xavier Becerra is and what he does? Becerra heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you read the department’s website, you might think that it offers immediate services for older people looking for housing or medication or companionship or transportation, but as a government agency, the department is neither nimble nor swift in its outreach to seniors.
We need one high-level person whose mission it is to help our citizens have a healthy and safe way of life in older age. Other countries do a much better job of caring for seniors, keeping them within the mainstream of life and providing increasing care as it’s needed. In Japan, for example, priority service is always available for older people, whether at the food market, the bus station or the medical clinic. In Denmark, multi-generational day care is available, keeping the aging population in contact with babies and toddlers.
We need to have one government official who thinks only about how to better serve older Americans. If you’re reading this, you are either already in the older group, or will be. If our aging population is better cared for, there will be more opportunity for younger adults to live a life unburdened by the isolation and expense of caring for their parents without help or relief.
Historically, we have failed our seniors. During the raging days of Covid-19 infection and death, it became obvious to me that the rules of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the guidance from the White House were generalized advice, not especially helpful for older people. I wrote then and I still believe that older people were not sufficiently protected during those very dark days. We were more vulnerable, more likely to have serious Covid, more likely to die. Those of us over 65 comprise 16 percent of the population, but 80 percent of Covid deaths.
Today, deaths are dropping in the U.S. but according to WebMD, “one fact has not changed in two-plus years of the pandemic: The elderly are still most at risk of dying from the virus.” Some of that is unavoidable, since older people often have other illnesses that make them more vulnerable; however, it stands as a national shame that Covid infection burned through nursing home and senior facilities, killing tens of thousands of people who might have been kept safe with more evolved medical protocols, specific to older people.
What we seniors do have is AARP, a powerful nonpartisan advocate for people over 50. For $9 a year, the organization offers education, discounts, travel benefits and specific guidance for older Americans who want to live the last 30 or 40 years of their lives feeling healthy and fulfilled.
As I write this, the AARP website is offering a big thank-you to Congress, which just passed Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The organization posted, “Millions of Americans 50-plus are one step closer to real relief from out-of-control prescription drug prices.” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said the group has been working for nearly 20 years to allow Medicare to negotiate the price it pays for medications. Now, because of the new bill, Medicare can fight for better drug prices, including a $35-a-month cap on insulin. That, as Biden might say, is a very big deal.
AARP is a dynamic and popular advocate, but a National Village Elder could bring additional attention and focus to the needs of our older citizens. If Biden weren’t busy being president, he’d be a terrific choice. He is relentless in his pursuit of solutions to problems we Americans care about. He is empathic and sensitive. He does not give up. He is old school, and that works when it comes to communicating with an aging population.
If he decides not to run for a second term, perhaps Biden will consider the Village Elder gig.
Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.