SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
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September 25, 2009

LGBT Group Talks Health With White House

The Advocate
By Kerry Eleveld
An LGBT advocacy group for seniors last Friday attended a meeting about health care reform held by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and director of public liaison Tina Tchen to discuss the needs of older Americans.

Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) joined groups like the American Association of Retired People and the National Council on Aging to talk about the health care debate and, in particular, the large number of falsehoods being peddled to the public.

"They said very clearly that with a lot of the backlash and misinformation that's out there -- the heated debate around end-of-life planning being turned into Odeath panels, for example -- they had called us together to get information about the pieces of the bill that are not being talked about and need to get more coverage," said Karen Taylor, director of advocacy and training for SAGE.

Taylor said one key provision for the aging that's currently in the health bill is the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or the CLASS Act, which is focused on supplying the services that older Americans sometimes need to stay in their homes and their communities for as long as possible. "If you have an older adult who's living alone and they are facing a manageable but chronic issue, if they do not have a family friend, a daughter, a sibling who lives nearby to help them, then that chronic issue may become far worse and they end up hospitalized," explained Taylor, "which is far more expensive, and nobody wants to end up there."

Sometimes, it's as simple as having someone help with making a meal in the morning, and this is particularly important for older LGBT people, since Taylor said they are twice as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to live alone. "Our entire health system today is based upon the assumption that you have at least one caregiver who can help you," she said, noting that two thirds of LGBT people live by themselves.

Taylor said that all the groups who attended agreed that raising the visibility of the CLASS Act was critical.

She added that simply being included in the small group of about 30 participants was, in itself, a step forward. "The thing that's very exciting for me personally was knowing that now SAGE is being seen as a national aging organization along with other organizations," she said, "and our colleagues in the Obama administration expect us to continue to add our voice."

Though President Obama had hoped Congress would vote on health reform before the August recess, the health debate continues with nationwide town hall meetings and constant negotiations around what to include in the bill and what can muster the votes to pass.

Obama's approval ratings have fallen into the low 50s over the past couple of weeks, and NBC polling from earlier this week shows a plurality of Americans believe the president's health plan would weaken the nation's health care system. While only 41% of people approve of the president's handling of health care, a scant 21% approve of the tack the the GOP has taken.

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