I'm a sucker for a celebration and today, the US Senate will proudly commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging. Currently chaired by Senator Herb Kohl (Wisconsin), this committee has had 14 chairmen, 12 staff directors and has held more than 2,000 national and regional hearings since its inception.
In the late 1950's pressure was building in Congress to address the problems facing old people, especially the twin issues of low incomes and high health care costs. In 1961, the Subcommittee on the Problems of the Aged and Aging became the Special Committee on Aging as part of the Kennedy Administrations "New Frontier" commitment to address health insurance for older Americans.
Although special committees have no legislative authority, they can study issues, conduct oversight of programs, and investigate reports of fraud and waste. The Special Committee on Aging was instrumental in laying the ground work for the legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.
Record of Achievement
This fall, the National Academy on an Aging Society published a report to honor the work and the role of the Committee (here) and the highlights mentioned include:
- "Developments in Aging" the committee's annual publication (1963-1985) contained reams of information about the lack of well-being of older Americans. This publication was essential to defining the needs of older adults.
- The enactment of Medicare in 1965 was propelled, in part, through the committee's hearings which publicized and documented older American's poor access to medical care.
- Passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965.
- Passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 1967.
- Enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in 1974.
- The 1977 publication of a twelve-volume report titled "Nursing Home Care in the United States: Failure in Public Policy." This report spurred nursing home regulation and reform in many states.
- Worked closely with the Finance Committee to implement the DRG reimbursment protocol for the Medicare Part A program in 1983. The new protocol radically altered the business plan for Medicare providers and their vendors.
The list of accomplishments is long, and I try to limit my blog entries to 320-350 words. Included in the committee's current work load are reviews of Medicare's performance, pension coverage, employment opportunities for older Americans and administrative oversight to Social Security and the Older Americans Act.
All the elected officials and staff who served on this Senate Special Committee are to be commended. Without the committee, aging issues would have no political forum and identified needs would go unaddressed without legislative action. In the current political climate, where government is seen by many to be a "problem", I posit that older Americans would be living vastly poorer lives without the benefit of the work done by the Senate Special Committee over the past 50 years.
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