Opinion

Landwirth: Rising to the challenge in meeting the needs of our older citizens

Author: Laura Landwirth - May 2, 2016 - Updated: May 3, 2016

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Laura Landwirth
Laura Landwirth

Colorado, like the rest of the United States, faces an unprecedented demographic shift over the next several decades. By 2031, the State Demography Office estimates that Colorado’s 65-and-older population will be 181 percent larger than in 2010 — growing from approximately 550,000 to more than 1.5 million people — and represent 21.9 percent of the state’s total population, double the 10.9 percent it represented in 2010.

This rising tide of seniors will have economic and social impacts that our state and country are not fully prepared to address and we will be challenged to meet the needs of our older citizens, including the funding and delivery of quality long-term care services and supports.

At LeadingAge Colorado, our founder, Walter Hocking Richards, realized early that Colorado’s seniors deserve a menu of housing and care options. He also saw value in staying connected with the issues being discussed under the Capitol dome in Denver. In the late 1960s, he brought together a group of retirement communities and nursing homes — all with different agendas — to meet, discuss issues and open a dialogue with state legislators about the needs of Colorado’s seniors and the entities that serve them.

Today, our members comprise the full continuum of senior care services, representing 175 organizations that serve more than 50,000 seniors and it’s our mission at LeadingAge Colorado to foster a collaborative network that leads, advocates and shares knowledge to enrich and advance services to the aging and promote a healthy business environment for its members.

This year, we advocated for a bill to maintain the sales tax exemption for meals served to residents of retirement communities. The bill addressed a Colorado Department of Revenue proposed change to a long-time understanding of the law that meals served to residents in retirement communities are exempt from sales and use tax. Under the terms of the bill, retirement communities include independent living, assisted living residences and nursing facilities. Seniors who choose or need to live in a retirement community should not be penalized and have to pay sales tax on food consumed in their home. The governor is expected to sign the bill and it will become law this summer.

We also lobbied against a proposed 1 percent Medicaid rate cut for home-and community-based services providers. Gov. John Hickenlooper included the reduction in his original budget proposal to the Legislature but, fortunately, the cuts were mitigated through the work of the Colorado General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee. Although avoided this year, with the state’s looming budget problems, cuts could be on the table again next year and an increase is not probable in the near future.

We would like to express our gratitude to the Colorado General Assembly for its support of these two important issues.

Other legislative items the association actively monitored this year include revisions to training requirements for unlicensed personnel who administer medications in certain settings, a bill to implement the recommendations of the Respite Care Task Force to make respite care more accessible, and a bill to allow physicians to make health care decisions for patients without anyone to speak for them.

In the regulatory arena, LeadingAge Colorado participated in a lengthy stakeholder process with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in reviewing, revising and updating the nursing home licensure rules. The association is currently participating in a similar group to update the assisted living standards. The population served in these types of settings has changed since the 1990s and the rules need to be revised to reflect the level of care needed for residents.

The association also represents the interests of its members on two stakeholder groups established by the state’s Medicaid agency, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, to review the adult day services and alternative care facilities rules for compliance with a federal rule issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that sets forth new requirements for the provision of Medicaid-covered home and community-based long-term services and supports. The regulations are designed to ensure that HCBS programs provide full access to the benefits of community living and offer services in the most integrated settings.

As 2016 progresses forward, LeadingAge Colorado is committed to working with it members, policymakers and stakeholders to advocate for seniors to have access to client-centered services, streamlined care and funding across the care continuum.

Laura Landwirth

Laura Landwirth

Laura Landwirth has been president and CEO of LeadingAge Colorado since 1994. She has more than a quarter century experience in health care and elderly care, including 20 years crafting policy and advocating for aging services.