White House Conference on Aging Adopts Geriatrics Resolutions
The recent White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA), which convened in Washington, DC in mid-December, highlighted an agenda that many of us in clinical geriatrics share. The 1200 delegates to the conference—which meets roughly once a decade to help shape national policy on aging—wrapped up the four-day session by adopting a slate of 50 resolutions to send to the President and to Congress.
Among the top 10 were measures calling for greater efforts in:
• Addressing the growing shortage of geriatrics health care workers by supporting geriatric education and training for physicians, advanced practice nurses, social workers, registered dieticians, and others;
• Recruiting, training, and retaining health care professionals in all disciplines, who can care for older adults with diverse values, beliefs, behaviors, and needs;
• Exploring ways to better coordinate care across the continuum of care for older adults with multiple chronic health problems;
• Expanding programs focused on disease management and chronic care coordination;
• Promoting innovative, evidence-based and practice-based medical and aging research that investigates and disseminates data on the changing health characteristics of Americans, and the prevention of disease, disability, and injury in older adults.
It was gratifying to see the priorities recently set by the American Geriatrics Society reflected in the conference resolutions. But the response from Washington and the media was troubling. President Bush declined to attend the conference, becoming the first Chief Executive to do so in the meeting’s near 50-year history. And the event was barely mentioned in the national press. Most disconcertingly, just days after the conference concluded, Congress voted to zero out funding for Title VII geriatrics education and training programs—programs that are crucial to recruiting and training the geriatrics professionals we so desperately need to prepare for the Aging Boom.
Unfortunately, and as you know all too well, clinical geriatricians have been struggling for some time now with workforce issues (exacerbated by insufficient reimbursement) and lack of societal recognition of the graying of America, the value of geriatric medicine services, and related issues. However, there may be some signs of hope. After returning from the holiday recess, Congress voted to officially rescind the automatic 4.4% cut in the Medicare fee schedule that had been mandated by the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula.
Many of us contacted our representatives in Congress and urged them to support a rollback of the 4.4% cut. No doubt, it helped. So now’s the time to redouble our efforts and advocate even more energetically for the other changes we need, including truly adequate reimbursement and long-term support for geriatrics training. Delegates to the WHCoA plan to send a full report on their resolutions to Congress by June. They also plan to continue advocating for key priorities. We can be effective as advocates for these issues too, and I hope you’ll join the AGS and its affiliates in their efforts. (For more information about the WHCoA, visit https://whitehouseconferenceonaging.gov and the AGS website, www.americangeriatrics.org.)
Note: A monthly update on new developments in the Medicare prescription drug benefit, coordinated by Richard Stefanacci, DO, MGH, MBA, AGSF, CMD, and myself, began in Clinical Geriatrics last month. We hope you’ll add it to your reading list.