We're All Aging … And What a Wonderful Thing!

Results from Governor Jay Inslee's 2013 Aging Summit

Consider: In 1850 the average life expectancy was 35 years of age; in 1900 it was 47; and in 2000 it was 70 years of age. Today, two-thirds of the entire historical human population is alive. This is a huge demographic and sort of evolutionary change.

It's a truly remarkable and wonderful change. I love that my kids have a chance to experience the wonder and wisdom, living history, guidance, and love of not only grandma and grandpa but great-grandma and great-grandpa.

This changing demographic and the wonder and power it presents is why Washington Governor Jay Inslee decided to convene the first ever Governor's Aging Summit in 2013, the first year of his administration.

This summit, co-sponsored by AARP and many others, presented an unparalleled opportunity for substantive and cross-cutting conversations on a number of important policy areas. Policymakers, experts, private and public organizational and community leaders across our state participated and prioritized options that truly formed Governor Inslee's and our state's strategic plan on aging, much of which we have since accomplished. You can read detail about the summit priorities and recommendations here.

It also served to jumpstart the work of the Joint Legislative and Executive Committee on Aging and Disability, which has taken action on a number of the summit priorities. This committee is an innovative bipartisan model led by co-chairs State Senator Barbara Bailey (R, 10th District, Oak Harbor) and State Representative Steve Tharinger (D, 24th District, Dungeness). I have the honor of representing Governor Inslee on the committee. The committee has done very good work in taking the summit priorities and putting them in action—and the committee will continue over the next two years.

Major topic areas of the summit and results

Livable Communities: We asked and focused on what we can do to ensure more livable communities through affordable, accessible housing and flexible transportation options.

Results:

  • Complete Streets and transit funding in Governor Inslee's historic transportation budget. This provides more transit and safer intersections and pedestrian infrastructure to connect housing with retail, health and other community services.
  • Many cities and counties are leading the way on better community planning like clustering services and housing around transportation hubs and offering more supportive housing options.
  • Increased awareness of falls prevention and more accessible community programs for older adults. The Department of Health has developed a brief and sponsored SAIL (Stay Active & Independent for Life), a low-cost strength, balance, and physical fitness program that many communities now offer across our state.

Financial Security: We discussed how we can help people plan for a secure retirement, and what we can do to ensure our most vulnerable are safe from financial exploitation.

Results:

  • The Small Business Retirement Marketplace bill from Senator Mark Mullet (5th District, Issaquah) that Governor Inslee signed into law this year will help employers and employees with more affordable quality retirement options.
  • Governor Inslee and the legislature provided modest funding to explore improvements and alternatives for long term care insurance, which is generally unaffordable but one of the only alternatives to spending down to poverty to qualify for Medicaid. We'll develop options like how a more accessible private/public insurance system might work.
  • Governor Inslee also marshalled critical budget investments to improve Adult Protective Services (APS) resources to combat financial exploitation.
  • He also supports the State Court's efforts to improve our guardianship system.  

Health Care: Summit participants discussed how we can help people stay healthy longer and address critical health needs.

Results:

  • One of the first decisions Governor Inslee made was to expand Medicaid and dental coverage for adults. Our state suffered from a nearly 16 percent uninsured rate, or more than 1 million people, in 2011. It's now under six percent, according to some estimates.  
  • Governor Inslee has implemented legislation and a priority recommendation from the summit, to develop an Alzheimer's and Dementia State Plan. This substantive work from a number of private/public partners is just finishing up. Public comment closed September 26.
  • Governor Inslee has also advocated for sensible, informed end-of-life care planning, another summit priority. As a result, he asked the state's private/public consortium to deal with vexing problems in health care—the Bree Collaborative (named in memorial for Dr. Robert Bree)—to develop specific recommendations.

We have begun implementing these recommendations, like offering more supportive care (often called palliative care) and reimbursing for health care providers to talk and advise their patients about options. Other recommendations to consider include creating an accessible directory for advance directives, like Oregon has, so providers have easy access to accurate patient instructions.

Governor Jay Inslee convened the first-ever Washington State Governor's Aging Summit in 2013 and much has been done to accomplish its goals.

Long Term Services and Supports: Our goal was to build on Washington's success with more cost-effective and popular home- and community-based care.

Results:

  • Governor Inslee has implemented a new program called the Community First Choice Option made available by the Affordable Care Act that is a reform to the long term care system to provide people more community and home-based services and supports.
  • Governor Inslee has made new investments for caregiver support services. He has ensured a livable wage for paid caregivers. He also wants to help support caregivers, including family and unpaid caregivers with certain interventions like respite care to reduce caregiver stress and burden for families.
  • Related, we also developed a web-based consumer resource called Community Living Connections, which helps you not only find and connect with caregivers but also to plan and prepare for your health, financial planning, legal and other needs, including direct connection with trained experts.

Much has been done, and as always, much is still left to do. Governor Inslee continues to focus on implementing the priorities of the summit. It's good that we've combined this effort with the President's efforts on a national level, efforts at the local level like good work underway in King County and the state's legislative committee.

Contributor Jason T. McGill, health policy advisor for Governor Jay Inslee, welcomes your thoughts and questions at Jason.McGill@gov.wa.gov. For information about services and resources, call Community Living Connections (206-962-8467 or toll-free 1-844-348-5464).

Photos of Governor Inslee above were accessed 9/22/15 on Flickr Creative Commons (www.flickr.com/photos/govinslee).