Contemporary Policy Issues Concerning Older Adults

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  • 0:01 Senior Day
  • 1:21 Elder Justice
  • 3:32 Health Care
  • 4:59 Disparities
  • 7:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll learn about issues in public policy that affect older adults today and what updates are needed to help older adults age well. You'll also discover the groups most likely to experience more challenges in their older years.

Senior Day

A group of older adults have arrived at their state capitol. Mel, who is in his 60s, has never been to the capitol before today. He's traveled here from three hours away with others from his local senior center. They are all here for Senior Day, an opportunity to talk with their legislators about their concerns, ideas, and needs, as well as to learn about legislation that most affects their age group.

Gavin, the person who organized the outing, gathers Mel and the others nearby the entrance of the capitol building. He briefs them on the issues they plan to address when they speak with their state senators and representatives. He asks for input from the group on the issues they want to address as well.

Mel listens intently, noticing how there is overlap between what Gavin tells him are the key topics and his own experience of these areas. Today, they plan to focus on three main areas of concern: elder justice, healthcare, and disparities between groups of older adults.

Mel also considers what concerns he wants to add that might not be as much on other people's minds. He knows of some areas that need attention that not everyone would realize. This lesson will discuss contemporary policy issues concerning older adults and relate them to the experiences of older adults, like Mel and Gavin.

Elder Justice

One of the top issues that the group prepares to discuss with legislators is the Older Americans Act. Overdue for reauthorization in 2014, this Act is about half a century old and has seen revision and additions over the years. The current reauthorization would promote new initiatives for aging adults and continue the funding for many established programs. Delays are caused by other competing priorities and differing political views over how to fund these programs without increasing the federal deficit.

One of the areas addressed by the revised Older Americans Act as proposed is to require the federal government to play a greater role in addressing elder abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities. Elder justice is a key area of concern for Mel, Gavin, and the group, and almost everyone in attendance knows of someone who had received poor treatment by facilities or even by family members. Elder justice refers to the movement to give older adults a voice in response to criminal actions against them. Public policy in this area provides resources to prevent and address these abuses.

In addition to physical and emotional abuse, financial exploitation is of particular interest to older adults. Gavin has first-hand experience with this, last year falling victim to a scheme involving his veteran's benefits. The perpetrators, who he thought worked for the government, offered him a lump-sum payment in place of the benefits he was supposed to receive for the rest of his life. Gavin didn't realize they were not acting in his interest, and ultimately, he found himself in much worse financial shape as a result.

The Affordable Care Act, passed during President Obama's administration, also includes provisions related to the abuse of older adults, as part of the Elder Justice Act portion of this legislation. The group at the Senior Day event hopes to encourage their legislators to keep this important issue on their minds. They want to ensure that the Elder Justice Act is implemented as planned and that federal funds are allocated and used to protect seniors from elder abuse.


Gavin moves on to the topic of healthcare. Many healthcare issues concern them, from continuing funding for Medicare to offering older adults options for their long-term care.

A particular area the group has at the forefront of their minds is addressing the shortage of health professionals who have expertise in geriatrics. Several members of the senior center group mentioned how long they have to wait for appointments, and how often they have worked with a healthcare provider who has no particular training in working with aging adults. Mel asks why this is the case.

Gavin has researched this topic and so shared with the group that there are several reasons why there are not more doctors trained in geriatrics. One reason is that this field does not offer the best financial reward, as it stands today. Doctors, who often have large student loan debt upon completion of their programs, are often drawn to better paying fields. In addition, the schedules for those who work in geriatric care are often not as appealing.

The Affordable Care Act has aimed to address this issue through promoting accountable care organizations and other measures to help encourage this field to grow. Yet, Gavin, Mel, and the others will make sure legislators are made aware of this problem and can vote to promote measures that improve the situation. This issue is particularly worrisome because moderate shortage now could mean a devastating shortage later, as the number of older adults rapidly increases in coming years.

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