1. Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN, news director

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Baby boomers, the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, are coming of age-retirement age, that is-and will soon be eligible for Social Security and Medicare.


As of January 1 of this year, the first official boomers began turning 60, and the cumulative effects of the exodus of this large group out of the workforce and into a world of free time-and greater need for social support and health programs-are worrying many government, health care, financial, and social organizations. These concerns, as well as the sobering national outlook for program funding, were the focus of the 2005 White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA), December 12-14 in Washington, DC (


As it has roughly every 10 years since 1961, the WHCoA brings together delegates from around the nation to "vote on resolutions that are intended to set the national aging policy agenda for the future." Of the 1,199 delegates selected, 440 were appointed by governors, Congress, the National Congress of American Indians, and other organizations; 759 "at large" delegates were selected by the WHCoA Policy Committee.


This 17-member bipartisan committee-appointed by the president and Congress-developed 73 resolutions based on input from 130,000 people at events held throughout the year. These resolutions cover a variety of issues, from creating a national strategy for prosecuting elder abuse to making workplaces "senior friendly" to improving access to care in rural communities and assuring an adequate supply of health care providers knowledgeable about aging.


The delegates voted on which 50 of the 73 resolutions the committee will send to the White House and Congress for consideration-hopefully to emerge as legislated and funded programs or policies addressing the resolutions.


The Bush administration doesn't value input, complained many delegates, who pointed out that this is the first WHCoA at which delegates weren't allowed to introduce or amend resolutions, a process that every other WHCoA has used. Tony Fransetta, president of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans (a 192,000-member senior-advocacy group) said, "What they are doing is wrong. They lined up speakers philosophically attuned with White House policies, and we can only address resolutions they picked. What's the point?"


Twenty-three percent of the delegates agreed with him, signing a petition asking for the process to be reinstated. It was not.

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Others were less concerned, saying that there was plenty of input prior to the conference. Policy committee member Tom Gallagher, speaking at a press conference, agreed, saying that the group could spend the time developing specific recommendations on implementing the resolutions, "rather than waste time wordsmithing resolutions."


It was hard, though, to dismiss the glaring absence of the traditional convener of the meeting-the U.S. president. For the first time in the WHCoA's history, the sitting president failed to address the delegates. Several delegates said the gesture gave them little confidence that the work of this conference would be seriously considered.


The presentation that generated the most discussion was given by David Walker, comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office, who painted a bleak picture of the national financial situation and declared current fiscal policy "unsustainable" unless drastic steps are taken to address the growing deficit and anticipated increases in the costs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. He offered several strategies for reforming retirement benefits and health care, pointing out that "half of the federally supported programs cannot demonstrate that they are making a difference in outcomes." He was especially critical of "companies [that aren't] delivering on their promises [to retiring workers] and federal law that allows them to evade those promises." (To view slides from Walker's presentation, go to


Jennie Chin Hansen is a senior fellow at the Center for the Health Professions at the University of San Francisco and was for 25 years the executive director of On Lok, a highly regarded community health organization for older adults in the Bay Area. She is also a board member at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and one of two nurses appointed to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (Sheila Burke is the other). Hansen was a delegate to the 1995 WHCoA and agrees that the process has in the past been more democratic and involved more input from delegates. "The mike wasn't shut off until everyone was finished," she says. For her, the important issues are funding, implementation, and accountability. "We need to look at all the rules and regulations and remove the ones that have become barriers to care. The big questions are Where will we be in five years? and What did this WHCoA and Congress accomplish?"


Other Highlights


* For the first time ever at a White House Conference on Aging, there were exhibits, including booths displaying new technologies for monitoring activity, falls, medications, and health parameters, as well as robotics and products that enhance independent mobility.


* Ken Dychtwald, who has been writing about aging since 1998, helped launch an ad campaign for volunteerism aimed at baby boomers, saying that retiring boomers are moving from a "quest for success" to a "quest for significance." The campaign slogan is "Lead. Inspire. Change the world. Again." (For more information, go to


The Top 10

Resolutions from the 2005 White House Conference on Aging.


1. Reauthorize the Older Americans Act within the first six months after the 2005 WHCoA.


2. Develop a coordinated, comprehensive long-term care strategy by supporting public and private sector initiatives that address financing, choice, quality, service delivery, and the paid and unpaid workforce.


3. Ensure that older Americans have transportation options to retain their mobility and independence.


4. Strengthen and improve the Medicaid program for seniors.


5. Strengthen and improve the Medicare program.


6. Support geriatric education and training for all health care professionals, paraprofessionals, health profession students, and direct care workers.


7. Promote innovative models of noninstitutional long-term care.


8. Improve recognition, assessment, and treatment of mental illness and depression among older Americans.


9. Attain adequate numbers of health care personnel in all professions who are skilled, culturally competent, and specialized in geriatrics.


10. Improve state and local health care delivery systems to meet the needs of seniors in the 21st century.