Remarks of the Honorable Elijah E. Cummings
TMember of Congress for the Seventh Congressional District of Maryland
The Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility Needs
for Seniors in the 21st Century
Charlestown, Baltimore County, Maryland
Monday, March 11, 2002
Good morning and thank you, Chairwoman (Nancy) Hooks, for your kind words of introduction.
I want to welcome you, your Co-Chair Ellen Feingold, and all of the members of this important Commission to Charlestown and Maryland's Seventh Congressional District.
THE HOUSING & HEALTH CARE CRISIS
I am confident that the recommendations that this Commission will provide to the Congress later this year will help us to better address what must be termed a "housing and health care crisis."
As the women and men charged with this important responsibility, I suspect that you would not take issue with the word, "crisis."
However, people who visit their relatives and friends living here at Charlestown might wonder why I have used such a highly-charged word to characterize the housing and health care challenges of older Americans.
After all, when they come here, they see the wonderful living facilities and health care services that John Erickson and his company provide.
Well, there are some very good reasons why I am convinced that the word, "crisis," applies to the challenges that we face in assuring every older American a livable home and affordable, high-quality health care
The hundreds of senior citizens who currently are on Charlestown's waiting list for admission are very good reasons for my use of the term, "crisis."
So are the 800,000 Marylanders who currently are over the age of 60 , and the 67,000 Maryland residents who have been fortunate enough to reach the age of 85.
Today, more than 33 million Americans are age 65 or older.
My mother, Ruth Cummings, who is still able to live in her own home on Lyndhurst St, is one of that great generation who took care of us + and now look to us to do the right thing.
By the year 2020, the number of American seniors is expected to reach 53 million strong.
That is a development that we all should welcome.
After all, you and I hope to be among that group of seniors 18 years from now.
We must face the reality, however, that the affordable housing and health care that older Americans will need in the year 2020 do not yet exist.
That is why the guidance that this Commission can give to the Congress and the private sector is so important.
THE CRISIS IS NOW + AS WELL AS IN THE FUTURE
The senior housing and health care challenge is not just a future crisis. We are facing it NOW.
Here in Maryland, committed professionals in our Aging, Housing and Health Departments are working hard to address the needs of our senior citizens.
More often than not, they succeed; but the magnitude of their challenge is great.
- Over 150,000 Maryland seniors over the age of 60 struggle each day with functional disabilities that limit either their mobility or their ability to care for themselves.
- More than 70,000 Maryland seniors are trying to live on incomes that fall below the federal poverty guidelines.
These numbers present financial and organizational obstacles to fully meeting the needs of Maryland's older citizens.
However, the courageous human beings who are struggling to live in the midst of this current crisis + and the family members who are living it with them + are not abstract statistics.
Most of the people in Maryland who suffer from inadequate housing and health care live right here in the Baltimore area.
Many others live in our more rural areas + Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
Almost every day, I meet older residents who need better housing or that additional help that will allow them to continue to live independent lives.
The poorest of them cannot afford the cost of their medicine.
For too many others, the "row house" architecture so prevalent in our area makes it exceptionally difficult for them to continue to live in their own homes.
So, they call our office for help + and we do everything that we can for them.
All too often, though, the public help that we can find for them is not enough.
That is why I was so heartened by your words during that first Syracuse, New York, hearing, Commissioner Hooks.
"With the imminent retirement of the baby boomer generation," you correctly observed,"the challenge before us is to avoid a crisis, and to ensure that we address these issues sooner rather than later."
"In the process," you continued, "we will strive to make improvements for the present generation as well."
All of us in public life share that responsibility, ladies and gentlemen.
For any older American to suffer after working hard all of their life is a national disgrace.
The Congress and Administration have a dual challenge that we must address:
- To CARE NOW for those who once cared for us; and
- To ACT NOW to provide for our own long-term care down the road.
Ladies and gentlemen, since you have been kind enough to give me a few moments of your valuable time, I will share with you a few observations about the housing, health care and funding issues that we face.
HOUSING: ENCOURAGING "AGING IN PLACE."
First, I am convinced that we should support public initiatives that would make it far easier for people to continue to live in their own homes as they age + the "aging in place" philosophy.
AARP supports the position that people should live independently in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Along with more than 80 percent of all senior citizens, I agree.
In this context, we should also take note of the fact that fewer than 2 million older American families currently live in federally subsidized housing.
That is only a small percentage of those who need this housing option. Older people typically live on fixed incomes; and they face a market for livable, accessible housing that is dominated by high costs.
The public and private sectors must work together to develop the mechanisms for more federally-subsidized housing for older American families who are not home-owners.
THE NEED FOR A BIPARTISAN CONSENSUS
ON HEALTH CARE FOR OLDER AMERICANS
Older Americans are also calling for bipartisan action in Washington on national health care initiatives that will better address their most fundamental needs.
For example, seniors need a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.
Our seniors should not be forced to choose between paying their rent and getting a prescription filled for life-saving medicine.
They should not be forced to cross the border into Mexico and Canada to try to get these drugs at an affordable cost + nor should they be forced to share medications or take less than the prescribed dosages to make their medicine last.
Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed bills to expand and improve Medicare coverage + proposals for essential benefits like mental health services, hemodialysis, mammography services, and extending benefits to people who are ages 55 to 65.
Unfortunately, in the current political environment in Washington, these bills often languish in Committee and seldom pass. I am hopeful that the recommendations of this Commission will provide the foundation for a new, bipartisan consensus for federal healthcare and housing policy on behalf of older Americans.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE
Government should be able to address these compelling issues in a non-partisan way, and I am hopeful that your recommendations will help us achieve that goal.
Government must also work more effectively with the private sector to encourage the purchase of long-term care insurance.
During 1999 and 2000, Senator Barbara Mikulski and I worked with Republican colleagues like Representatives Joe Scarborough of Florida and Constance Morella of Maryland in a successful, bipartisan effort to provide long-term care insurance at group rates to federal workers and our military personnel.
We need to expand that option to everyone.
As our senior population expands, the growing demand for long-term care will present most of us with severe financial burdens.
Unlike other health care services for older Americans, Medicare currently does not cover most long-term care costs.
Neither have most Americans saved the funds that they will need to pay for the potentially catastrophic expenses of long-term care.
Those of us who were leading the effort to make long-term care insurance available for federal employees and military personnel believed that, as the nation's largest employer, the federal government should set the example.
During the course of our bipartisan legislative process, Congressman Scarborough and I held a series of congressional field hearings, one of them here in the Baltimore area.
My office will make the congressional staff report that I commissioned for consideration at that hearing available to this Commission. You will find that the long-term care projections faced by Baltimore residents are quite sobering:
- Over 420,000 current residents of Baltimore City and County will spend time in a nursing home at some point in our lives.
- Over 200,000 of us will be in a nursing home for more than one year + and more than 70,000 of us for more than five years.
- By the year 2020, our staff estimated, a one-year stay in a nursing home could cost us approximately $108,000.
- By 2050, that annual cost is expected to rise to nearly $400,000.
Few of us will have sufficient savings to pay those extraordinary costs out of our own pockets.
As I have already noted, however, people in our community are facing that long-term care crisis today.
During our Baltimore hearing, I related the tragic story of Mrs. Sandy Pika, who lives in the Catonsville area near here.
Mrs. Pika and her husband, Daniel, served this country well at Social Security Administration Headquarters during their entire working lives.
They looked forward to a well-deserved retirement.
I will never forget Sandy Pika's words, however, as she re-lived the desperation that she experienced when Daniel's illness made it impossible for her to take care of him at home.
Mrs. Pika broke down and cried when she was told that the hospice care that Daniel's illness required would cost $550 a day - $400 more than her insurance would pay.
Ladies and gentlemen, we must do everything we can to make long-term care insurance more affordable.
We must encourage employers and families to plan now for a very difficult challenge in the future.
If we fail to do so, nearly one-third of all of the families who currently live in the Baltimore area will face impoverishment.
They will be forced to rely upon the publicly-funded Medicaid system at some time in their lives.
No American family should be forced to choose between caring for a loved one or impoverishment.
By working together, however, I believe that citizens, the private sector and government can make the cost of long-term care more affordable.
Recommendations from this Commission may help all of us to do what we must to preserve our dignity, our family homes and the family relationships that we have worked our lifetimes to build.
That is why I am so pleased that Patrick Brady will be testifying before this Commission today on behalf of Citizens for Long Term Care. Please give his coalition's call for action the serious attention that it deserves.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are engaged in an important service for our country.
We in the Congress look forward to receiving your report and recommendations later this year.
Your work will help us to more effectively address a serious crisis in health care and housing + a crisis we face today and for the foreseeable future.
You deserve the nation's gratitude for your efforts.
Thank you for inviting me to participate.
Your invitation gave me this opportunity to stop by and say, "thank you."