Commission delivered final report to Congress on June 28, 2002
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The Golden Years are Costly

Published Friday, January 11, 2002 by the Miami Herald

Many Floridians, and in fact most Americans, have a false sense of security about their ability to meet the costs of getting older. This retirement reality gap -- the growing disparity between the costs that Americans are prepared to meet and those they actually will incur -- now looms as one of the most significant domestic challenges we will face in the years ahead.

America is aging quickly. The Census Bureau estimates that the number of Americans aged 65 and older will be 70 million in 2030, about double the number today. The number of people aged 85 and older will likely double to about 8.5 million by 2030.

A recent survey of residents of Florida and four other states finds that most Americans don't understand the costs involved with growing older. Conducted by the AARP, the survey found that 85 percent of Americans could not identify within a broad range the cost of nursing-home care. About a third of Americans said that their medical insurance would cover the cost of long-term care, despite the fact that the insurance industry acknowledges providing only 6 percent of Americans with this type of coverage.

As our senior population grows, we must find better ways to help seniors -- and those 10 to 20 years from retirement -- understand and manage the real costs of the golden years. This means making senior programs and services more comprehensible, effective and directly related to the needs of seniors now and in the years to come.

We should replace the confusing patchwork approach to services and programs that too often limit the choices seniors have and that make saving for retirement so confusing. For example, even though the housing and health-care services upon which millions of seniors depend are closely related, two different government agencies, using different standards, administer the programs. Their communication is nonexistent.


Last year Congress established the U.S. Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility Needs in the 21st Century to help explore these issues. Its website is www.

The Seniors Commission, as it is commonly known, is charged with identifying public and private efforts that can improve, streamline and unify the delivery of housing and health-related services to senior citizens. For the past year, the commission has traveled to different communities to hear from citizens about their concerns and the challenges they face regarding this important issue. We will issue a report to Congress and the president in June.

As one who oversees the operations of three senior housing complexes in Miami, I know how vital this issue is to South Florida. I've seen the unique perspective that our community has on elder-care issues and believe that our voice on these issues is crucial.


We have the opportunity to be heard at a public hearing that the commission will hold on Monday. South Floridians will be able to speak out and tell Washington what is working and what is not in our community and state.

I hope that our experiences help guide the changes that can and must take place to overcome the retirement reality gap and ensure that our seniors have the care and housing they need to live productive and happy lives.

Steve Protulis is executive director of the Elderly Housing and Development Corp., a senior-citizens housing provider in Miami.

The page was last modified on January 20, 2002