WASHINGTON – Eighty years of Social Security. Fifty years of Medicare. Fifty years of Medicaid.
2015 marks the anniversaries for three of the United States’ oldest social programs. It also marks the penultimate year for the Obama administration to affect the triad.
At Monday’s decennial White House Conference on Aging, business leaders, politicians, celebrities and caregivers talked about ways to get issues for senior citizens – from better public transportation to more secure retirement plans – on more 2016 agendas.
“When we won World War II, everyone came home and had babies,” President Barack Obama said to the crowd of about 175. “I mean, not literally everyone, but a lot of people had babies. And now, each and every day, almost 10,000 of those babies turn 65.”
As baby boomers become retirees, strains on the U.S. budget continue to grow. By 2030, over 20 percent of Americans will qualify for Medicare and Social Security, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, a declining proportion of the U.S. population will pay taxes to serve these programs.
Despite the graying of the U.S. population, the country remains relatively young compared to its peers.
Nevertheless, a growing proportion of seniors affects the government.
Robert A. McDonald, secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that a primary cause behind long delays in providing veterans with medical care in 2014 is not merely the high number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is their age.
As the U.S. grows grayer, so do its veterans.
“Demographics are destiny,” McDonald said.
Calling Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 82, the “Notorious RBG,” Obama said the oldest Americans are sometimes the toughest. He said they are also deserving of a firm foundation for retirement.
“One of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens,” Obama said. “Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security are some of our greatest triumphs as a nation.”
Medicare and Medicaid, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, have remained intact during Obama’s second term despite some calls to cut spending on the three programs. Medicare provides medical care to those over 65, and Medicaid provides care to those with low incomes, including some receiving Social Security and Medicare.
But Obama does not want just to preserve the trio.
The Department of Labor proposed a rule in February to protect people who are saving for retirement from a host of pitfalls, including fine-print fees and conflicting advice. The rule promises to help future retirees earn more than $40 billion over the next 10 years.
Obama said he will fight to make family leave and workplace flexibility available to every American. That would make it easier for adult children to care for their aging parents.
“Change has always been hard,” Obama said. “We need to recommit ourselves to finishing the work that earlier generations began.”
Reach Matthew J. Connor at [email protected] or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Download photos and graphic: Aging-conf.zip