Highlights from the 2015 White House Conference on Aging
What an amazing conference!
The 2015 White House Conference on Aging http://tinyurl.com/pjvovp6 (WHCOA) took place at the White House on July 13, 2015. The Conference was truly a national conversation. In addition to the older Americans, community leaders and advocates at the White House, there were more than 700 watch parties in every state of the Union. Our hashtag, #WHCOA, also lit up social media with nearly 10,000 Twitter users contributing to the dialogue!
Monday’s event was a culmination of the country coming together in a dialogue about aging in America today and what the coming decade holds. We heard from speakers and audience participants discussing a wide range of topics from caregiving to financial security to technology and more. The 2015 White House Conference on Aging was an opportunity to highlight the importance of supporting the aging population in the United States. The Administration announced a number of key deliverables (http://tinyurl.com/pxg7gs5) to help empower Americans as they age.
Bernie Nash, 92 years young and a delegate to the first White House Conference on Aging in 1961 kicked off the day, followed by a welcome from Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President.
The true highlight of the day came early on when President Obama delivered remarks from the East Room of the White House. He noted that one of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens, and some of this country’s greatest triumphs are Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs --- created by Congress in 1965 and 1935 respectively. “Together we declared that every citizen of this country deserves a basic measure of security and dignity,” said President Obama. “That choice saved millions upon millions of our people from poverty, allowed them to live longer and better lives.”
President Obama underscored a key announcement related to planning for retirement: the Labor Department is going to make it easier for state-based retirement savings initiatives to help workers who don’t currently have access to a 401(k) at work save for retirement.
President Obama also touched on many initiatives throughout the Federal government to support older Americans. The life of the Medicare Trust Fund, for example, has been extended by 13 years since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, nine million seniors have received significant discounts on their prescription drugs, and more than 40 million people on Medicare have received free preventive services. He talked about ways to make it easier for Americans to save for retirement, and ways to combat elder abuse.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell offered remarks highlighting new steps the Department is taking to improve the quality and safety of nursing homes, and shared a video recapping the five WHCOA regional forums.
The jam-packed agenda included panel discussions on Caregiving in America, Financial Security at Every Age, the Power of Intergenerational Connections and Healthy Aging, Elder Justice in the 21st Century, and Technology and the Future of Aging.
Secretary Tom Perez of the Department of Labor, Secretary Robert McDonald of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Secretary Tom Vilsack of the Department of Agriculture as well as other administration officials such as Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Richard Cordray, Director of the National Economic Council Jeff Zients, and Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee participated in the panel discussion and throughout the day. Other panelists included industry leaders and advocates, as well as caregivers, athletes, and innovators. Armchair conversations throughout the day focused on Innovations in Aging, Nutrition and Aging, and Universal Design. Jo Ann Jenkins of AARP delivered a lightening talk on “Disrupting Aging;” and Mary Kay Henry from SEIU delivered remarks focused on Care for All.
The morning session ended with remarks from White House Conference on Aging Executive Director Nora Super. She compared the work of WHCOA to a symphony. Each and every instrument has an important role to play – a voice to add. Take away a single instrument and the entire work is diminished, the outcome lessened, the score incomplete. It’s the same with our work here. Take away a single voice, a single contribution, from our dialogue and discussion, and the outcome will certainly be diminished.
The afternoon was filled with dynamic speakers, intriguing panel discussions, and robust question and answer sessions.
The day presented many opportunities for those at watch parties or following on social media to participate. At the end of each panel, those in the room as well as those participating virtually asked questions of the panelists. The response on social media was overwhelmingly positive as users tweeted or posted with excitement as they heard their questions being asked in Washington, D.C.
Labor Secretary Tom Perez wrapped up the day with a call to action. He reminded the audience that without advocacy, there would be no Social Security, no Medicare, no Medicaid, no Affordable Care Act. Recalling Nora Super’s remarks, he called on all Americans to raise their voices and advocate for these important programs and a healthy future for aging in America.
It was quite a year getting to the 2015 National Conference, with regional forums in Tampa, Phoenix, Seattle, Cleveland, and Boston; hundreds of listening sessions; and meetings throughout the country. All of it culminated in a truly extraordinary day, a national conversation that provided new ideas and insights to help all of us live longer, healthier and, ultimately, better lives. But the event, although outstanding in content and conversation, was a step to build on, not to rest on. We must continue the Conference’s work, sustain the national dialogue and discussion that was initiated, and ensure that we are fully prepared for the changing aging landscape in the next decade, and beyond.
Article by Louisville Metro Community Services - Office for Aging & Disabled Citizen Newsletter July 24th 2015 issue.