AARP urges new leaders to tackle health care
With new Democratic leadership in Congress, AARP's president is looking for movement "toward a moderate bipartisan mode" and health system reforms.
"We want to hold them now to do what they said they're going to do," said Erik Olsen, who is in Honolulu this week to attend a medical event.
A 10-year volunteer with AARP, the unpaid president said he wanted to visit AARP Hawaii for an update on its activities and join in honoring about 80 volunteers at a luncheon today. "I am pleased to see what AARP Hawaii is bringing to the community and state," he said.
AARP has about 37 million members, including 151,000 in Hawaii.
Olsen will address the annual meeting of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation tomorrow at the Hawai'i Convention Center.
He said Hawaii has an "excellent health care system" with an employer mandate to provide health benefits for employees. Yet the state still has 120,000 uninsured residents, he pointed out.
He said he believes the war in Iraq was not the only driving force for the shift from Republicans to Democrats in Tuesday's election. He believes Americans were upset at the partisanship that has existed and suggested the new Congress reflect on that.
Among leading issues on AARP's agenda, he said, will be the price of prescription drugs and the solvency of Social Security.
AARP is proposing that authority be given to the secretary of health and human services to negotiate the best prescription-drug prices for seniors and that Social Security's solvency be discussed in bipartisan negotiations.
"I believe with this election, probably the idea of private accounts that drain money out of the trust fund are no longer a valid idea," Olsen said.
AARP has proposed some "tweaks to the system," he said, such as investing a small part of the trust fund in equities and raising the ceiling on the maximum amount of Social Security money taxable to increase revenue.
More tweaking also will be needed either to raise the revenue or adjust benefits, he said.
Olsen said he is "outraged" and "embarrassed that the richest country in the world doesn't have a national long-term care program, either through access or affordability."
"The short-term political reality is that it's probably mostly a state problem," he said. "I recognize that Hawaii has a more significant number of seniors than most other states and more people over 85."
Hawaii has a unique cultural tradition of family caregiving, he noted, but said that will not solve the whole problem.
"Hawaii will be forced to blend support of the family caregiver culture with more patient-oriented institutional arrangement for those who need it," he said.
The high price of health care also demands attention, Olsen said.