Health and aging stories to follow in 2017

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Joy Weinberg via Flickr

Photo: Joy Weinberg via Flickr

The new year heralds a new administration and much uncertainty about what lies ahead for older adults’ health care. There are threats (or promises) to privatize Medicare, cut elder-friendly programs such as the SNAP supplemental nutrition program, revamp Social Security, eliminate CMS demo programs and more.

From science to community-based care, here are some issues to put on your beat’s radar for 2017:

ACA Repeal

What will Congress do? Repealing and replacing the ACA is a significant threat to older adults too. The law provides no-cost coverage of many Medicare-funded preventive services, among other elder-friendly funding.

Medicaid Changes

As AHCJ health reform topic editor Joanne Kenen recently wrote, rollback of the Affordable Care Act will affect Medicaid expansion. Whether changes come in the form of block grants or other funding, it is bound to affect the dual-eligible seniors, as this article in McKnight’s points out.

Medical Studies

The 21st Century Cures Act gives a boost to cancer research, Alzheimer’s research and the BRAIN initiative. But as this CBS News article points out, some elder advocates warn that another provision, which might speed up new drugs to the marketplace, could adversely affect older patients. That’s because they often are not included in clinical trials. Meanwhile, skyrocketing drug prices may put needed medications out of reach for some older adults. This new Senate Select Committee on Aging report takes drug makers to task.

It seems new stories appear weekly about promising treatments for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. This opinion piece in The Boston Globe looks at why finding solutions is so problematic. Before hitting “send,” take a few minutes to review these AHCJ tips about reporting on medical studies.

Caregiver Quandry

Family caregiving will continue to be a vital issue for the millions of spouses, adult children, relatives and friends who care for older adults. We know they are overworked, stressed, depressed, and frequently end up neglecting their careers or self-care. Will Congress address this issue with funding for training and expand community-based programs?

Home and community-based programs take many forms in addition to direct care. They are designed to allow older adults to age-in-place for as long as is feasible. Are there innovative initiatives like this one in Patterson, N.J., going on in your community? What about this idea from the United Kingdom, which addresses issues of social isolation, caregiving, and living in community?

Workforce Shortage

We’re also dealing with both an aging workforce and a dearth of qualified care professionals for the older population. How are businesses, cities and states addressing these challenges? On the caregiving side, look at issues like scope of practice, loan forgiveness, training, wages, and community programs. Meanwhile, employers are finding it challenging to replace retiring workers, even those who end up staying on the job longer, writes Phillip Moeller in this U.S. News and World Report article.

As more people enter the 65-plus age bracket, and Congress tightens the purse strings, it will fall to the states to pick up much of the slack when it comes to healthy aging. However, many states face their own health cost crises. That could lead to waiting lists for senior services according to the Kansas Health Institute. It’s happening in states from Massachusetts to Louisiana to California. What is happening in your state? What services are on the chopping block, and which organizations are meeting the growing needs of the older population?

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, — more like the tip of the iceberg — I hope it provides a springboard for aging coverage in 2017. Let AHCJ know about your reporting on programs, services, and people making a difference in your community; about efforts to combat elder abuse, improve a city’s “age-friendliness,” or ease caregiver burden. Plus any of the myriad ways our aging population is living healthier, happier, more productive lives. This year promises to be filled with story possibilities.

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