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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Celebrating the policies and programs that have changed the lives of older Americans and Americans with disabilities

July marks several important anniversaries for older adults and people with disabilities in this country. 

Medicare/Medicaid 50th Anniversary Logo

Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon Johnson signed three life-changing pieces of legislation that dramatically improved the outlook for older Americans: Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act (OAA).  Twenty-five years later, on July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), committing the US to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities.

Combined, Medicare and Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, and the Americans with Disabilties Act, offer a range of programs and services that protect and support some of the most vulnerable people in our society.  

Medicare and Medicaid extended health care insurance and coverage for long-term care to millions while the Older Americans Act created the foundation for a system of services and supports that help preserve the independence of seniors as they age.  The ADA, one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in mainstream American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in state and local government programs and services. 

Security for Older Americans

Speaking at the conference, President Obama said: “So one of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens. And by that measure, the United States has a lot to be proud of. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security are some of our greatest triumphs as a nation. When Social Security was signed into law, far too many seniors were living in poverty. When Medicare was created, only a little more than half of all seniors had some form of insurance. Before Medicaid came along, families often had no help paying for nursing home costs. Today, the number of seniors in poverty has fallen dramatically. Every American over 65 has access to affordable health care.”Helping to observe the OAA and Medicare/Medicaid anniversaries, the White House Conference on Aging was held on July 13 and was streamed live to “watch parties” around the country, including the largest made up of thousands attending the 40th annual conference of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a).

ADA 25th Anniversary Logo

The Older Americans Act is today considered to be the major vehicle for the organization and delivery of social and nutrition services to seniors and their caregivers. It authorizes a wide array of service programs through a national network of 56 state agencies on aging, 629 area agencies on aging, nearly 20,000 service providers, 244 Tribal organizations, and 2 Native Hawaiian organizations representing 400 Tribes. This summer, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will mark the anniversary of these programs by recognizing how they have changed the nation’s health care system and exploring what can be done to strengthen the programs, especially as they face the aging of the Boomer generation.

As an Area Agency on Aging, Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio receives about $9 million annually in funding through Title III of the Older Americans Act. Information about Older Americans Act spending and activities in our region can be found on page 17 of Council on Aging’s 2014 Annual Report

Unfortunately, funding has been relatively flat over the past decade, failing to keep up with inflation and demand from a rapidly expanding older population. As stated in a 2014 report by the AARP Public Policy Institute, these funds help delay or prevent more costly institutional services and help people remain in their own homes. Yet current funding leaves many needs unmet, increasing reliance on more expensive medical and institutional care.

Civil rights for Americans with disabilties

The Americans with Disabilties Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life, including employment, state and local goverment, public accomodations, telecommunications, and other provisions.  

Anniversary celebrations are planned across the country.  In Cincinnati, a the ADA's silver anniversary will be celebrated on Fountain Square on Monday, July 27.  The celebration begins at 9:30 am with a Disability Pride March, a half mile, fully accessible walk from City Hall, through Piatt Park, ending on Fountain Square.  Fountain Square will be packed with exhibitors and activities starting at 10am. Council on Aging is a sponsor.  Senator Eric Kearney will serve as program host, and speakers will include Councilman Kevin Flynn, Chip Gerhardt, and Ms. Wheelchair Ohio. Entertainment will be provided by Steel 'n Jon and Melodic Connections.  For more information about Cincinnati's ADA anniversary celebration, contact CILO at 513.241.2600 ext 123. 

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