Today U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Children and Families, and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, and, introduced legislation to improve care and services for older adults.
The Strengthening Services for America's Seniors Act seeks to improve existing Older Americans Act (OAA) programs by ensuring family caregivers receive the support and services they need, strengthening the long-term care ombudsman program, and creating better referral and reporting systems for legal assistance programs.
"I believe that 'Honor Thy Father and Mother' is a good commandment to live by and a good policy to govern by. That's why I'm fighting to improve the Older Americans Act to better serve our seniors," Senator Mikulski said. "Through these improvements, we are working to honor the responsibilities we have to our elderly. We must commit ourselves to meeting the needs of our growing and changing senior population and their caregivers. This bill ensures that the services our seniors need are available to help them live more independent and active lives."
"This bill will help the nearly 44 million family members providing care to an older relative by permitting states to assess whether family caregivers need services such as respite care or counseling. It will also strengthen the long-term care ombudsman program by providing more tools to protect residents," Senator Kohl said. "I look forward to working with my colleagues on addressing these issues in the broader OAA reauthorization."
At a May hearing, the Senate Special Committee on Aging examined ways to reshape and modernize aging services through the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. OAA programs provide assistance to more than 10 million older adults by helping them live independently in their communities. Services include home-delivered meals, senior transportation, and family caregiver support. As America's population rapidly ages, many Americans will need critical support services like those provided under the OAA, yet funding for OAA programs fell 17 percent from $2.3 billion in FY 2010 to $1.9 billion in FY 2011. Currently, nearly 39 million Americans, or approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population, are over 65. By 2020, one in every five Americans will be over 65.
The Strengthening Services for America's Seniors Act has been endorsed by the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a 66-member association that includes Leading Age, National Alliance for Caregiving, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs, National Association for States United for Aging and Disabilities, and the National Council on Aging. In addition, the bill is supported by Family Caregiver Alliance, National Association of Senior Legal Hotlines, and the National Family Caregivers Association.
A summary of the bill follows:
Family Caregiver Assessment:
- Creates a voluntary state program to assess family caregivers through a series of targeted questions to determine whether they would benefit from services (e.g., counseling, respite care).
- Under the program, states would provide referrals for supportive services for family caregivers that may be available from local, state and private-sector programs.
Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program:
- Expands the National Ombudsman Resource Center's (NORC) training capacity and ability to work with state surveyors on improving the investigative processes used to address residents' concerns.
- Requires that states must ensure that facility residents have private and unimpeded access to ombudsman services in a confidential setting.
- Ensures that ombudsmen proactively encourage and assist in the development of resident and family councils in long-term care settings.
- Clarifies that Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) should not impede the access to resident health records by ombudsmen, and enables the ombudsman to access resident records other than medical or social records.
- Ensures all information provided by residents seeking assistance and maintained by the ombudsman program should be subject to the OAA disclosure provisions, not only information which is contained in files or records.
Advisory Committee to Assess, Coordinate and Improve Legal Assistance Activities:
- Convenes a nine-member committee to develop recommendations within two years for improved coordination of legal assistance services across OAA programs, including uniform reporting and service delivery recommendations for legal assistance providers.
- Requires that the Administration on Aging Assistant Secretary subsequently issue regulations, guidance, or both, that are informed by the recommendations of the committee.