The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

October 1, 2013

Brian Duke | Health commission's first job: listen

JOHNSTOWN — Pennsylvania’s seniors are living longer, and it’s vital that we help them to live better, which is why Gov. Tom Corbett’s “Healthy Pennsylvania” proposal warrants a closer look.

Pennsylvania is the fourth grayest state in the nation. By 2015, nearly one in four Pennsylvanians will be age 60 or older, with health care needs that often differ significantly from the rest of the population. We need to preserve our Medicaid system to make sure we have resources available now and as the state’s senior population grows.

“Healthy Pennsylvania” not only reforms our Medicaid system – it preserves and improves it.

But Corbett’s plan also calls for the state to do something government doesn’t do often enough: listen.

“Healthy Pennsylvania” creates a long-term care improvement commission to explore how best to develop a coordinated, long-term care and support system. The commission will be tasked with making sure that older adults and persons with disabilities receive the best possible care.  

The commission’s first job will be to hear from doctors, social workers, advocates, providers and, most importantly, recipients to find out where the system isn’t measuring up and to examine innovative ways to deliver care.

It’s not enough to insure the uninsured. The coverage has to fit the needs of Pennsylvanians. For instance, the governor’s proposal extends the use of telemedicine, allowing doctors in remote and underserved areas to share diagnoses and symptoms with specialists throughout the state and nation.

That makes sense for our older Pennsylvanians. Our state has one of the highest populations of rural residents in the nation, with 48 of our 67 counties classified as rural. One in five of those rural Pennsylvanians is a senior.

Corbett’s commitment to seniors should be news to no one. Since taking office, he has signed the Pennsylvania Caregiver Support Act, created the Pennsylvania Alzheimer’s Disease Planning Committee through executive order and extended prescription medication benefits for seniors.

This year, he added $68 million into the state’s budget for programs that will benefit older Pennsylvanians by helping them remain in their homes and communities and have better access to long-term care services.

This commitment will help provide care management, home-delivered meals and in-home services for Pennsylvanians ages 60 and older. It also will help support senior-center modernization and expand services through our 52 Area Agencies on Aging so that we have the system in place to assist our seniors.

Clearly, the Corbett administration has signaled that older Pennsylvanians are a priority. With “Healthy Pennsylvania,” we are on track to ensuring access to quality, affordable health care for all Pennsylvanians.

As the long-term care improvement commission reports back, you can expect additional proposals and programs to make certain that seniors not only have health care – but that they have the best available, most suited to their needs.

It starts with listening.

Brian Duke is the Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging.

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