OP-ED: America’s Invisible Population

Becca Rubsamen, Junior

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At 20 years old, you should already be thinking about your end of life care. By 2035
there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 18—the elderly population
alone growing from 6.4 million to 14.6 million in just 20 years. There is extensive health
insurance available for those under 18, however for those over 65 Medicare will only cover your
first 100 days in a nursing facility. This may seem like a problem that only effects a minute
portion of the country; that is changing as people are living longer than ever before. The United
States population is about to face one of their toughest challenges yet—long term care. With a
consistently increasing age of life expectancy there will be more people in need of long-term
care than ever before living under a desperate health care system that is not structured to
accommodate or support the elderly population.

You may ask yourself, why should I care about this if it is not going to affect for me
another 50 years? Other countries, such as Japan, are making end of life care a priority today.
They are not waiting 50 years to address this issue, and neither should we. Japan created a
Universal Elder Program in which a large portion of government taxes are used to subsidize
services such as adult day care, home health aides and visiting nurses all of which have relatively
low fees and co pays. These services allow for people to pay less out of pocket for everyday care,
preventing them from draining their life savings. Most people over the age of 65 do not make
enough money to pay for the health care services the United States offers. The median income for a man over the age of 65 is $24,000 while it drops to just $14,000 for women leaving no
room for the $76,000 the average American will spend on a nursing home every year.

After working as a licensed Nursing Assistant in various hospitals and nursing homes
across the West Coast for the past three years, I see first-hand the loss of independence, isolation,
and financial upheaval experienced by the elderly population. America should take note of
Japan’s actions to improve long term care policies before it’s too late and there are millions of
Americans with nowhere to live, no access to proper care and rapidly deteriorating health.

Our health care system treats the elderly as an invisible population removed from society
and has little to no support for them. Death and mortality are subjects discussed behind closed
doors; we do not talk about it. Our country needs to start a dialogue about how to help the elderly
in the end of their life. The issue of long-term care is not something that we can put off—it must
be a priority today as it cannot be changed overnight. If attitudes towards the elderly do not
change, if there is no health care reform in favor of the 65+ population and there is a continual
increase in life expectancy then there could be no place for your loved one when they need a
higher level of care that you can offer.

Other countries are already tormented by the issue of long-term care and are taking action
now. We need to follow in their footsteps so that people over the age of 65 have reassurance that
they will have a place to live and access to proper medical care if necessary. There are people in
their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s who are draining their own and their family’s savings to pay for
minimal nursing care, being forced to move out of their homes since home health is tragically
unaffordable for most Americans all while suffering from the challenges of getting older or
subsequent diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s. We cannot wait 50 years to tackle this
issue once it affects one’s own generation. This could happen to your loved one. Or worse—you.

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