Op-ed: It’s important to take care of older Americans

By Rep. Thomas P. Murt

As we begin the new 2019-20 legislative session, I have been appointed majority chairman of the House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee. 

My calling in life has always been to help the most vulnerable individuals who sometimes cannot speak for themselves, including our older adults. Truly, I am grateful for this appointment. I see it as an opportunity to find ways for our seniors to mature gracefully, with dignity and choice, keeping them active and involved in the community.

It is estimated that by next year, almost 25 percent of our population here in the commonwealth will be 60 years of age or older. That is a quarter of our state’s population that deserves an advocate and voice in the General Assembly. In 2011, the first of the baby boom generation began turning 65 years old. What does that mean for the future of our long-term care system? It means an expected influx of older adults needing services in the home, in the community and in facility-based settings.

We are fortunate to have the Lottery Fund, which exclusively funds aging services. Nearly $1.8 billion is strictly dedicated to the PACE/PACENET prescription drug program, shared and free ride transportation, Medicaid Aging Waiver services, funding for the Area Agencies on Aging and the Property Tax Rent Rebate Program.  Our commonwealth is the only state in the nation to commit its lottery revenues to long-term care services and supports. 

One of the major changes in our current system has been the expansion of Community Health Choices into the southeast. Those individuals who are dually eligible to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid have already been enrolled by an MCO. I want to ensure this transformation into managed long-term care is the right thing for our senior population. Coordination of care along the continuum has been a discussion for decades. Actual execution and implementation does not come without some concern, some glitches and the reality it will not be an easy lift. However, I know that, when done correctly, integration of services may lead to better results, outcomes and less hospitalizations for our older adults. In the end, the ultimate goal is to keep seniors in their homes and in the community where they have lived, want to live and deserve to live out the rest of their lives. Home and community-based services are often a much lower cost to the state than facility-based care. For some of those adults, the reality may come one day where they can no longer remain safely in their homes and they or their family choose to move them into a personal care home, an assisted-living residence or a skilled nursing facility. 

As they make those difficult decisions, it is my goal to work with industry stakeholders to make certain barriers are removed, individuals are being placed in the most appropriate settings, and are receiving the best care. If they cannot be in their homes, I know we all inevitably want our loved ones in a safe, secure and loving environment. 

Part of ensuring safe environments at home and in the community, we must have protections from elder abuse. One of my main objectives this session will be working to pass a bill sponsored last session by my colleague Tim Hennessey to amend the Older Adult Protective Services Act. 

The bill will enhance employment bans on those who cannot work in long-term care based on extensive criminal history. In addition, the committee will continue to work with the banking industry to tackle ways to combat financial exploitation and other elderly-targeted scams.

I am looking forward to working with the Wolf administration, the Department of Aging, the Area Agencies on Aging and other industry stakeholders to strengthen the long-term care system in Pennsylvania. 

I see it as a worthy challenge and a boundless opportunity to continue to make a difference. ••

Rep. Thomas P. Murt represents the 152nd Legislative District, which includes Upper Moreland Township, Lower Moreland Township, Bryn Athyn and Hatboro and parts of Bustleton, Pine Valley and Upper Dublin.