On March 21, 2014, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc., held its first annual national Voices of Medicare Summit and Sen. Jay Rockefeller Lecture. The event brought together advocates, thought leaders, researchers, policy makers and others for a day of reflection and collaboration. The theme of "Voices of Medicare" came to life in the stories of real people that were shared throughout the day. The event was held in Washington, DC at the Kaiser Family Foundation in its Barbara Jordan Conference Center. Below are some highlights from the Summit and some of the next-steps that it generated.
- The importance of the Kaiser space: It was fitting that the Summit was held in a space that honors the memory and work of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, a woman of color and a tireless advocate for equality for all people. As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, Rep. Jordan understood first-hand the need for comprehensive, affordable health care and long term services and supports.
- The importance of telling the stories of our client's lives: Mrs. Berkowitz, for example, once painted delicate scenes of beaches and of birds brimming with color and humor. She also collected figurines full of whimsy. Her paintings line the walls of her room and her figurines fill its shelves and tables. She is no longer able to leave her room without considerable and taxing effort due to advanced Multiple Sclerosis. She is happy to be cared for among her beautiful things and in the room she loves. Advocacy and perseverance have enabled her to remain in the room she loves. You can hear Mrs. Berkowitz in her own words through a video portrait created by StoryCorps.
- The importance of health and income security: We also heard Ms. Vaughn's story. She is a retired low wage health care worker, injured on the job, and old beyond her years. She relies on a patchwork of benefits and services. She describes her life as standing on a seesaw, dependent and struggling to make ends meet. She is fortunate to have her daughter nearby. Mrs. Vaughn is also fortunate to live in an apartment where the rent for low-income seniors and persons with disabilities is made affordable through state and federal subsidies. One of the voices of Medicare, you can hear Mrs. Vaughn's story in "Old and Poor: America's Forgotten" produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation
- The role of champions: The support and engagement of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D. WV) underscored the Senator's commitment to the development and expansion of long-term supports and services for persons with disabilities as well as his commitment to a strong and viable Medicare program. Similarly, Congressman Joe Courtney (D. CT) expressed his commitment to ending hospital "observation status," a trap that bars beneficiaries from receiving Medicare payment for medically necessary post-hospital care in a skilled nursing facility.
- The need for optimism and vision: Even in the face of state and federal budget deficits, an intractable Congress, and the complexity of expanding access to health care and long-term supports and services, it is important to be positive and creative. There is strength in collaborations that bring together people and organizations with different strengths to achieve common goals.
- The power of collaboration as an advocacy tool: The Summit brought together researchers and economists (to provide an overview of the consequences to individuals, institutions, and the nation that flow from existing disparities in income and access to health care and long-term supports and services ), foundations and funders (to provide organizational and financial support for advocacy), local and national organizations and institutions (which champion initiatives that broaden access to health care services and supports and illuminate the plight of low income health care workers), federal policy- makers and administrators (to give voice to the political and financial challenges of developing and expanding health care access, supports, and services), health care providers (physicians, dentists, nurses, therapists, geriatric care managers, and family members to give voice to the complexities of providing care), health care advocates (to give voice to how the tools of their various disciplines can be brought together to effect change and right wrongs), and the media (to educate the public and sound the alarm about the need for comprehensive health care policies and initiatives).
- Charting the road ahead: We must continue to tell the story of those who lack access to health care and long-term supports and services. Likewise, we must continue to expand our communities of interest through strong intergenerational alliances, partnerships among persons with disabilities and older people, and through an array of strategic collaborations with unions and organizations that support low-wage health care workers, health care providers, and community leaders.