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The Editorial Board: Hochul moves to protect seniors’ health. Washington must do the same

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Gov. Kathy Hochul Covid briefing at ECMC (copy)

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a new initiative to help aging New Yorkers stay healthy. It's an essential effort here and around the country as rising numbers of baby boomers turn to Medicare.

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If there is one predictable, unavoidable challenge facing New York – and every other state – it is the aging of their populations: baby boomers crashing the gates of seniority. New York, at least, is planning for the crush.

In fact, the torrent began 11 years ago as the first boomers reached Medicare age and it’s been nonstop since then. In New York, home to one of the nation’s largest populations of older people, the numbers are piling up fast. One-quarter of New Yorkers are expected to be at least 60 years old by the time this decade ends.

Nationally, forecasts are that by 2035, there will be more adults 65 and older than there will be children. And by 2040, the 85-and-older population is expected to more than double from 6.6 million before the Covid-19 pandemic to 14.4 million. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid face obvious challenges, but so do other services for older Americans, including home and nursing home care.

It’s good that New York is planning for this. What New Yorkers and all Americans need are state and federal leaders who are committed to protecting the promises made to older Americans. That doesn’t mean nothing can change – full retirement age for Social Security benefits has been rising in recent years, for example. The jumping-off point for any revisions must be a commitment to identifying appropriate ways to maintain programs that support those who have paid their dues and reached an age when that assistance becomes increasingly important. Creativity counts.

In New York this month, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order, backed by legislation, aimed at producing greater collaboration and innovation regarding the health and well-being of older New Yorkers as well as their loved ones, who are often caregivers.

“We continue to take important steps to empower and support older New Yorkers,” Hochul said in directing the state Department of Health and Office of Aging to lead the effort. “This Master Plan for Aging will provide us with tools to ensure our aging New Yorkers have access to quality long-term care in healthy, livable communities where they can thrive.”

Overwhelmingly, these are New Yorkers who have worked for decades, dug deep to support this high-tax state and have reached an age where higher levels of medical care become necessary. It’s a challenging time, given the numbers of baby boomers who will soon need care, if they don’t already.

That issue also needs attention in Washington but, again, by leaders who are committed to maintaining Social Security and Medicare for those who have paid into it for decades. Changes are inevitable, given the financial forecasts, and could come in the form of new tax policies, higher retirement ages and more efficient administration, among other strategies.

Medicare is already more efficient than many private health insurance plans, as is about to become more so, as a new law finally allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, as other countries already do. That will be a boon seniors in New York and around the country.

In the meantime, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has called for a broad-based deal to protect Social Security and Medicare while confronting the federal debt. It’s an encouraging proposal, with Congress closely divided and Joe Biden as a fire wall in the White House.

A model already exists for this kind of deal. In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan signed a bipartisan deal in which both Democrats and Republicans compromised on an approach that protected Social Security. It initiated taxation on some Social Security benefits while gradually raising the age of retirement. It wasn’t perfect – what political agreement is? – but it has protected Social Security and served seniors for almost 40 years.

These issues will only become more difficult in the years to come. It’s good Hochul is dealing with them on the state level and essential for her to follow through. Washington, with the needs of seniors prominently in mind, must do the same.

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