In an address to Congress that included proposals to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, create jobs and stem climate change, President Joe Biden also promised to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs; bolster the Affordable Care Act (ACA); improve access to long-term care; and create a national research agency to tackle diseases that mostly attack older Americans.
Biden led off his address with a plea to Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccination. He pointed out that 70 percent of older adults are now fully vaccinated and that deaths among the oldest adults are down by 80 percent since January. Because of the pandemic, on the eve of his 100th day in office, the president delivered the speech in front of just over 200 lawmakers instead of the customarily packed U.S. House of Representatives chamber.
"If this pandemic taught us anything, it is that America's care infrastructure and physical infrastructure are failing,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said in a statement issued after the just over 70-minute speech ended. “More than 182,000 people died in long-term care facilities, demonstrating the urgency of overhauling the system. Meanwhile, older Americans continue to see rising prescription drugs prices, forcing many to choose between their medicines and putting food on the table."
Much of what Biden spoke about is contained in the infrastructure and families plans he has introduced in recent weeks, including enhancements to America's long-term care system.
"Two million women have dropped out of the workforce during this pandemic,” Biden said, “and too often because they couldn't get the care they needed to care for their child, or care for an elderly parent who needs help; 800,000 families are on the Medicare waiting list right now to get home care for their aging parent or loved one with a disability.” The president's infrastructure plan includes $400 billion to expand access to long-term care, including home- and community-based care.
"Forty-eight million unpaid family caregivers help keep their older parents, spouses and loved ones at home and they need more help and support,” Jenkins said in her statement, adding that our communities also “need access to high-speed internet, safe transportation and better housing options,” elements also included in Biden's infrastructure proposal.
Medicare fixes needed this year
While Biden has yet to unveil any formal proposal on Medicare or prescription drugs prices, he made it clear in his speech that he wants Congress to act on health care in 2021.