Advocates for Bay Area seniors this week will convene around a vexing social problem: As the number of elderly living in poverty grows, safety net programs from Meals on Wheels to basic medical coverage continue to shrink.
Wednesday's Bay Area Senior Health Policy Forum will bring a busload of seniors from Santa Clara County together with state legislators and federal officials, Gray Panthers, doctors, affordable housing advocates and social workers.
Among them will be liberals and conservatives who all share a common concern, organizer Bob Edmondson said.
"There's a collision between the funding cuts for seniors and a growing over-65 population," said Edmondson, who runs On Lok Lifeways, a health plan serving seniors from San Jose to San Francisco. "So it's an important time to talk about policy issues."
California's senior population is expected to double in the next 25 years, while studies show the number of elderly struggling to pay for medical bills and other basic needs has reached record levels. According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 47 percent of state residents 65 and older are unable to cover grocery, health and housing costs. Even in the affluent Silicon Valley, 48 percent of seniors fell below the researchers' survival standard.
Wednesday's forum, to be held at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco, is an attempt to stave off such hardship by bringing together service providers, advocates and
policy makers who can compare notes and devise strategies to backfill programs suffering from funding cuts.
Since 2008, California has steadily scaled back core services for low-income seniors, with some programs eliminated altogether and others drastically reduced.
The cutbacks include a 10 percent reduction to home-delivered meals and Adult Protective Services -- and a 50 percent cut in Alzheimer's research centers. Cash grants to poor and disabled seniors have plunged so low they now fall well beneath the federal poverty level.
Significant reductions have also been made to In-Home Support Services, adult day health care, and the number of doctor visits and prescriptions allowed for seniors on Medi-Cal. Impoverished seniors now face caps on funding for hearing aids, wound care and incontinence supplies. And despite their fixed incomes, they now have to pay higher co-pays for doctor visits and drugs.
At the local level, Santa Clara County supervisors have slashed funding to nonprofits serving the elderly. And San Jose officials recently eliminated significant funding for senior nutrition programs.
"There's a cumulative effect," said Lori Andersen, director of healthy aging at the Health Trust, a Campbell-based charitable foundation. "We're getting hit on all sides."
Indeed, there seems to be no end in sight to California's scaling back. Additional cuts to senior programs may be triggered next month as a result of state revenue projections that have fallen short. And more federal cuts also appear imminent, following the failure of congressional leaders to tackle the budget deficit.
Andersen, one of the forum's organizers, said that advocating for senior health is difficult, given prevailing notions that elderly Americans are entirely cared for by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"There's still this sense that seniors are not so bad off," Andersen said. "But when you dig deeper and really look at it, there's a lot of serious poverty among seniors."
Contact Karen de Sa at 408-920-5781.
A FORUM ON SENIOR POVERTY
Among the speakers at Wednesday's Bay Area Senior Health Policy Forum will be state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; Diana Dooley, secretary for the California Health and Human Services Agency; Melanie Bella, a director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and David Ishida, regional administrator at the U.S. Administration on Aging. Walk-in registration will be available. For details, go to: www.shpf.elders.org.
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