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How America Can Afford to Grow Older: A Vision for the Future

AARP West Virginia's Steps to Better Health Project is a great example of how you're trying to reduce the high incidence of obesity while encouraging physical activity with programs like the Annual Labor Day Charleston Power Walk, the Alzheimer Memory Walks, and the American Heart Walk.

4. Focus more on chronic care management.

Chronic conditions are more and more common, yet our health care tends toward acute and episodic care, an expensive misallocation of resources.

About five percent of Medicare beneficiaries account for about half the money spent. Many of these people have multiple chronic diseases.

As you know, treating chronic conditions, because they are so common, is very costly, yet many of them are among the most preventable.

Obviously we want to prevent the onset of chronic diseases, but we have to accept that they exist and manage their care and their cost better.

5. Move toward a prevention model of health care.

We can't prevent all disease, but we can do much more to keep people out of doctors' offices and hospitals.

This is just what AARP hopes to do in our new partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another way to prevent hugely expensive and tragic diseases is to fully support the National Institutes of Health, from which cures and treatments for Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's, for instance, would prolong healthy life and save billions.

6. Bring down the high costs of prescription drugs for all Americans.

These drugs keep people independent, working and out of hospitals and nursing homes…but not if people can't afford them.

We need to invest in evidence-based drug research, increase our use of generic drugs, accelerate the development and approved use of generic biopharmaceuticals, use innovative strategies like pooled purchasing, facilitate the wise use of pharmaceuticals and legalize safe importation from other countries.

7. Provide everyone with access to the health-care system.

Over 45 million Americans lack health insurance; many are working people or kids in families where at least one parent works.

The fact is that the uninsured tend not to see doctors, and then go to the emergency room when something is serious or life-threatening. This is the most expensive and least effective way to deliver medical care. We absolutely must solve this problem, and not by simply shifting costs from one sector of the economy to another.

Each of these seven things is tough to achieve. None is impossible. They will improve the quality of care for all Americans, and give us much better value for our money.

They will help make Medicare and Medicaid sustainable over the long run. And, they will help ease the burden on business and individuals.

So let's get after it. This investment will make life better for future generations, and we'll pay for it as we go along, not pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

Now, let's turn to economic security. We can enhance our retirement system by strengthening Social Security, creating more pensions and savings and providing employment opportunities for people as long as they want or need to work.

Social Security is the most successful domestic program in our history, a risk-free, guaranteed pension that on average replaces 40 percent of a retiree's wages.

And with 27 percent of West Virginians over the age of 65 counting on Social Security as their sole source of income, I don't think I can overstate the vital importance of this safety net.

President Bush has put Social Security high on the nation's agenda, which gives us the opportunity to strengthen the program for future generations.

As you know, AARP is, and will be, deeply engaged in the national debate as it continues on this year. We believe that now is the time to act. We can spread any costs over all generations, rather than leaving it to our kids and grandkids to shoulder the load.

One great example of AARP's commitment to strengthening Social Security is right here in West Virginia, where you were so successful last year in getting West Virginia's offset law taken off the books.

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