Washington, DC — Dr. Yanira Cruz, NHCOA President and CEO, joined colleagues from the Latinos for a Secure Retirement and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) for a Capitol Hill briefing with several Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on issues including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA). Following are Dr. Cruz’s prepared remarks:
“Good afternoon esteemed colleagues and honorable Members of Congress. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to brief you today.
“I will start by stating what we already know to be true, but needs to constantly be repeated: Hispanics stand to lose disproportionately if severe changes are made to Medicaid, Medicare, and the Older Americans Act as we seek fiscal responsibility and debt relief.
“Given that Latinos are the fastest aging segment of the U.S. aging population, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), NCLR, and Latinos for a Secure Retirement are concerned for our community, particularly Hispanic older adults who will be most gravely affected.
“It’s been discussed at town hall meetings across the country – the American people clearly aren’t in favor of privatizing Medicare because of the increased financial burden it will place on seniors. This is especially true for our Hispanic older adults: 90% depend on this vital program for nearly all of their medical expenses. Additionally, many supplement their health care coverage with Medicaid, which provides a crucial safety net for low-income seniors, women, and children across the country.
“If Medicaid’s government matching funding mechanism is replaced by a block grant that places the financial burden on the states, Hispanic seniors are put at serious risk of falling into poverty and staying there indefinitely. People over 65 stay in the poverty the longest of any age group, and in 2009 nearly one fifth of Latino elders were poor.
“Furthermore, the Older Americans Act is due to be reauthorized this year. This act provides important and cost-effective services that are beneficial to Hispanic older adults.
“Particularly, the National Family Caregiver Support Program keeps seniors in their homes and off Medicaid. The NFCSP provides states with grants to provide family caregiver training and support groups, aid to caregivers in accessing services, and respite care services for caregivers.
“In 2007, the cost of replacing unpaid caregiving with paid services totaled $375 billion. Aside from the fact that the NFCSP has been proven to provide caregivers with the necessary tool to be able to assist their loved ones, it is especially beneficial to Hispanics because the care they receive is from a loved one, in a language they understand, and in a culturally sensitive manner.
“Additionally, NHCOA as part of the Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC), a group of seven national organizations dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for this country’s diverse aging communities, have included eight recommendations into the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations’ official “Consensus Recommendations for the 2011 Older Americans Act Reauthorization” that are specific to racially and ethnically diverse elders, as well as LGBT elders, and older adults with HIV/AIDS.
“The bottom line is that Latino elders stand to lose the most, as the health iniquities they face—such as disproportionate rates of hypertension and diabetes— are due to social and economic barriers they’ve experienced throughout the course of their lives: lower levels of education, lower per capita incomes, poorer employment prospects, and reduced access to long-term health care.
“We recognize that we need to find solid, meaningful solutions to our financial woes, but let’s not do it at the expense of the Hispanic community and our Hispanic older adults who have painstakingly contributed to the wellbeing and advancement of our families, communities, and larger society.
“We respectfully ask you to help us protect Medicare and Medicaid from being unfairly affected in the budget negotiations, particularly by opposing spending caps that will inevitably affect these vital safety nets and potentially Social Security.
“We also strongly urge that the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act be taken up and renewed this year with an increased $35 million in funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program, as requested by President Obama; and the Diverse Elders Coalition’s recommendations to change language in the act itself that are specific to racially and ethnically diverse elders, as well as LGBT elders, and older adults with HIV/AIDS.
“Muchas gracias, we thank you for your time.”