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by Rochelle Sharpe, AARP Bulletin, September 1, 2010
The next governor of Massachusetts may find aging issues almost impossible to ignore as the state's 60-plus population grows to 1.6 million in the next decade.
The surge in older citizens will have a big impact on the commonwealth, from health care and transportation to employment and long-term care services.
The major candidates for governor in the Nov. 2 election seem most concerned about helping people age in place—an issue that state lawmakers have been struggling with for years.
"I will not be satisfied until seniors can age in their own homes instead of in nursing homes," said Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, who is seeking a second term.
Patrick cited his Community First Agenda, launched two years ago, as a major step toward helping people stay at home longer. Under the initiative, more people are receiving counseling about long-term care options, and a committee is studying the best ways to finance more community support for older people.
Republican candidate Charlie Baker, ex-CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, wants to pay for more home-based care by seeking federal money and transforming the role of nursing homes in the state. Besides providing traditional long-term care, he wants nursing homes to offer post-acute medical care—competing with hospitals and rehabilitation centers for that business. The increased competition, he said, would cut state health care costs, allowing the government to dedicate more money for home-based care.
To help older people stay in their homes, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, running as an independent, proposes some creative measures, such as paying spouses to care for their elderly partners or letting people use life insurance proceeds or their home equity to pay for care. In the past, the Patrick administration has opposed paying spouses. Baker would explore federal pilot programs for caregiving.
Baker also said he would "restore the shortsighted budget cuts" to such programs as Prescription Advantage, which helps older people with their prescription costs. Over the past three years, 45,000 residents have lost some or part of the benefit.
Jill Stein, a physician who is the Green-Rainbow gubernatorial candidate, also advocated restoring the cuts, which she called "pure foolishness."
Cahill proposed an even more dramatic reversal of government policy. If elected, he said, he would try to opt out of the new federal health care plan.
"We've been balancing the desire to fully fund universal health care on the backs of our elderly population," he said. The state has paid for its health plan, in part, by cutting back on government reimbursements for hospitals and nursing homes, he said.
All the candidates said affordable transportation was key to making communities more livable. Cahill said he wanted to fix existing transportation problems "instead of throwing money at new projects to look like we're doing things."
As for helping unemployed workers over 50, both Patrick and Baker favor making more retraining programs available. Cahill said an improved economy would help solve the problem, since younger workers are now taking part-time jobs away from older employees. The economy is a top issue for Massachusetts voters.
Stein was the only candidate who suggested resurrecting the cabinet-level Executive Office of Elder Affairs. A cabinet-level agency, she said, would better ensure that older people's "voices are heard and their needs are met."
Find out where the candidates for governor, Congress and state legislature stand on issues important to you, like health care and economic security. Read AARP's voter guide and side-by-sides online.
Rochelle Sharpe is a Pulitzer Prize-winning freelance reporter based in Brookline, Mass.
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