Seniors are a large part of Minnesota's population – and they will represent an even larger share as the Baby Boomer generation retires. From 2012 to 2050, the number of Americans over age 65 will nearly double, and the number of seniors 85 and older will triple.
Our seniors depend on Social Security and Medicare as a safety net and as their guarantee that they can continue leading their lives with dignity and security. For generations, Social Security has been a stable and secure retirement guarantee for all Americans. It is our nation’s most successful domestic program, providing an essential safety net and ensuring a decent retirement for Americans who’ve worked hard their whole lives. We must ensure this program remains solvent for generations to come.
We also need to ensure our nation’s seniors continue to have access to high-quality health care through the Medicare program. This includes everything from preventative care to affordable prescription drug prices. When Medicare Part D was created, its goal was to supply cheaper prescriptions drugs to seniors by creating competition between private insurers, yet seniors still struggle to afford medication. That’s why I introduced legislation that would allow the government to directly negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare Part D so our seniors can have access to their medicines at the lowest possible prices.
As the population of seniors continues to increase, the need for elder care will also grow. The size of the older adult population is directly related to the demand for long-term care and it’s estimated that about 70 percent of all people over age 65 will need at least some long-term care services during their lifetime. With this, a new generation of family members will assume the role of caregivers for their parents by tending to increasingly complicated health and long-term care needs. We need to make sure that seniors and their adult children have the resources to prepare for their long-term care. In particular, seniors and caregivers need to be educated about the types of available services and how to access these programs. We need to be doing more to help caregivers coordinate the care our seniors need. We also need to support programs to help develop best practices at the local level, so that we can continue to support the nation's caregivers.
I will continue to work to preserve and enhance the health care and retirement programs our seniors depend on, while also helping all families prepare for the demands of an aging population.
As Minnesota’s U.S. Senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
- Protecting and strengthening Social Security. Since Congress passed the Social Security Act in 1935, this program has touched the lives of almost every American. Social Security serves as a foundation for millions of retired Americans and provides vital support for Americans with disabilities and the surviving spouses and children of deceased workers. Over two-thirds of all American seniors depend on Social Security as a safety net. Social Security has kept more than 40 percent of all senior citizens in America out of poverty. I will continue to fight against risky schemes that would privatize Social Security and turn it from a guarantee of a secure retirement into a gamble where only the big financial companies on Wall Street would be the sure winners. If these schemes had been in place during the previous several years, millions of Americans would have lost their Social Security in the stock market. I will also continue to push for sensible reforms that will extend the solvency of Social Security by decades.
- Making sure that Medicare is buying the best health care at the best price. Under the current system, there are huge and unjustified disparities in the way Medicare pays doctors and hospitals. For example, in 2013, Medicare spent almost $15,000 for the care of a typical beneficiary in Miami, Florida, but only $8,000 for a patient in Minneapolis. I'm working to reform Medicare so that it pays providers based on quality, not on quantity of services provided, and reduces these unfair payment disparities.
- Lowering prescription drug prices. We must empower Medicare to negotiate on behalf of our seniors for the lowest possible prescription drug prices. We must also crack down on pharmaceutical companies who engage in anticompetitive practices and price manipulation. And we should allow for the reimportation of safe, less-expensive drugs from abroad.
- Assisting families in caring for seniors. Over 12 million adults today need some type of long-term care. Seniors want to be able to live independently and stay in their own homes as long as possible and family support is essential to making that option available. And while nursing homes and paid care providers serve our elderly in some situations, the vast majority of elder care comes from informal care givers - more than half of whom are adult children taking care of their parents. Millions of families already find themselves as members of the "sandwich generation," coping with the challenges and costs of caring for elderly parents at the same time they are caring for their own children. As the baby boomer generation ages, the numbers will continue to grow. Just as the country addressed the needs of working moms and dads in the 1970s, we must now address the needs of our working daughters and sons.
- Strengthening oversight of long-term care workers and court appointed guardians. As the population of seniors continues to grow in Minnesota, the need for strong protection from abuse for our elders becomes more critical each year. Vulnerable seniors can be victimized, even by the people who are supposed to be caring for them. Most long-term care workers adhere to ethical standards that ensure the safety and well-being of their clients. However, there are cases when long-term care workers do not have the interests of seniors in mind. In these instances, too many vulnerable adults are abused and financially exploited by court-appointed guardians and conservators – the very individuals charged with protecting their well-being. We owe it to our seniors to ensure that they are not endangered – physically, emotionally, or financially – by those responsible for their care.
- Protecting seniors from identity theft and other financial scams. Identity thieves often target seniors, invading their privacy and exploiting them financially. An estimated 50 percent of identity theft victims are older than 60. Today, perpetrators of fraud have found new ways to alter their identities to steal the personal and financial information of innocent victims. As Hennepin County Attorney, I made a priority of prosecuting cases of financial fraud against seniors. As senator, I am fighting to protect our seniors from financial scams, to strengthen penalties for criminals who prey on our seniors, and to bring them to justice.
As Minnesota’s U.S. Senator, I have been fighting to ensure that all Americans have safety, dignity, and good health in their senior years:
- Ensuring Social Security remains a vital part of retirement for current and future generations. I have consistently opposed proposals that would privatize Social Security accounts. I have also supported increases in Social Security payments to help seniors make it through these difficult economic times. In 2009 the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided a one-time payment of $250 to all Supplemental Social Security Income recipients. In addition, I voted in 2010 to provide another $250 supplemental payment to Social Security recipients, however this proposal was blocked. In 2012 I supported the 3.6 percent increase in the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment. Finally, I have cosponsored the Keeping our Social Security Promises Act that would extend the solvency of Social Security by 75 years.
- Preserving and strengthening Medicare. Minnesota has always led the way in providing low-cost, high-quality health care. I authored legislation creating a "value index" for Medicare reimbursement rates. Beginning this year, the value index, which was included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will help control costs by rewarding the value of care instead of the volume of services. It will also strengthen the safety net of Medicare by ensuring that funds are there to pay for our seniors’ health care. Finally, this value index will help ensure that Minnesota and other states that deliver high-quality, efficient care are rewarded for this care, not punished.
- Improving access to less-expensive generic drugs. I have also introduced legislation with Senator Grassley from Iowa, the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act, that would help put an end to the practice of brand-name drug manufacturers paying off their less-expensive generic competitors to stay out of the market. By stopping these “pay-for-delay” settlement agreements, we will help make sure consumers have access to cost-saving generic drugs they need and save taxpayers billions of dollars.
- Closing the Medicare Part D donut hole. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act included critical provisions to reduce prescription drug costs for seniors through rebates and closing the Medicare Prescription Drug Program “donut hole.” As a result, over 9 million seniors have saved $15 billion in discounts on prescription drugs since the law was enacted, an average savings of $1,598 per person.
- Requiring Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for our seniors. I have introduced legislation - the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2015 - to eliminate the current ban that prevents Medicare from negotiating directly with drug companies for lower prices, which has imposed substantial and unnecessary costs on America's taxpayers and seniors, who are paying excessive prices for prescription drugs.
- Allowing the reimportation of safe, less-expensive prescription medicines from Canada and other approved countries. American seniors pay inflated prices for their prescription drugs. But just to the north, Canadians enjoy inexpensive and safe prescription drugs. That is why, along with Senator McCain, I introduced the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act, which allows people to import prescription drugs from safe, proven Canadian pharmacies.
- Ensuring access to vital drugs. I authored the bipartisan Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act to require prescription drug manufacturers to give early notification to the FDA of any incident that would likely result in a drug shortage, as well as direct the FDA to provide up-to-date public notification of any actual shortage situation and the actions the agency would take to address them. The key provisions of my bill to help prevent drug shortages were included in Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act that was signed into law in July 2012. Early notification helped the FDA prevent 170 drug shortages in 2013 and 101 in 2014.
- Providing support for seniors who want to stay in their homes. When elderly Americans choose to remain in their own communities, it is not only often better for their health and peace of mind but also a more cost-effective option. To increase the use of remote monitoring technology for homebound seniors, I helped introduce the bipartisan Fostering Independence Through Technology Act with Senator John Thune of South Dakota, which would encourage the use of remote monitoring technology by home health agencies. I have also supported funding for initiatives like Community Innovations for Aging in Place to improve the quality of life for seniors who want to remain in their communities.
- Assisting families in caring for seniors. I introduced the Americans Giving Care to Elders Act, which would establish a federal tax credit to assist with the costs of caring for an aging family member and would help expand programs such as the National Family Caregivers Support Program, which provide education, guidance and support to people taking care of loved ones with long-term care needs.
- Protecting seniors from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. I authored the Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act, which pushes for stronger screening and oversight of court-appointed guardians for seniors and persons with disabilities. I also supported the Elder Justice Act, which was incorporated into the health care reform bill that passed in 2010. The bill establishes the Elder Justice Program to prevent the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the elderly by providing block grants to states to properly train and certify employees at long-term care facilities. I also supported the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act to improve authorities' ability to conduct criminal background checks on long-term care workers.
- Protecting seniors from fraud. I introduced the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act with Republican Senator Susan Collins from Maine. This bill will provide much needed protection to seniors from fraud schemes through consumer education and by establishing an effective complaint system that ensures complaints of fraud are quickly forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. The legislation would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to coordinate with other agencies to monitor the market for fraud schemes targeting seniors. The bill would also require the FTC to distribute information materials to seniors, their families, and their caregivers that explains the process for contacting law enforcement authorities in the event that a senior is targeted in a fraud scheme. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’ll continue to make sure seniors are protected from scams.
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