Our Turn: State’s seniors deserve more – and better

For the Monitor
Published: 5/27/2020 6:20:07 AM

President Donald Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has failed to protect one of our most at-risk populations: seniors. The disastrous federal response, coupled with not supporting establishments serving seniors, increased the rate of infections and deaths in older Granite Staters. The Trump administration and some Republicans in Congress have unnecessarily put Granite State seniors at risk throughout this crisis.

Assisted-living facilities have become fatal hotspots as caregivers struggle to obtain adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and inadequate resources leave residents without access to care. Older workers will be the most at risk as states across the country begin to reopen – leading to a further surge in cases. In addition, the Trump administration’s continued efforts to repeal the ACA and cut funding to Medicare and Medicaid will be detrimental to the 8.5 million people between ages 50 to 64 who rely on expanded coverage for essential care.

As cases continue to increase, more than 90,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 – with nearly 80% of deaths among those over the age of 65. Age and chronic conditions shouldn’t condemn even more elderly Americans to a death sentence as states are pressured to reopen, and the Trump administration has a responsibility to protect the most at-risk members of our communities.

Contact tracing has found that nursing homes are lethal hotspots for COVID-19, with over 28,000 deaths in the United States linked to residents or workers in assisted-living facilities. These facilities produce roughly one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States despite only accounting for 11% of cases. Experts warn that lifting visitor restrictions in long-term facilities is risky with continued lack of testing and PPE – and could lead to a surge in fatalities among residents. Despite warnings, the administration has circulated guidelines for assisted-living facilities to begin lifting restrictions.

Working older adults are at higher risk of exposure to the virus as businesses adapt to safety guidelines. Nearly three-fourths of workers 65 and older – over 5 million older workers – were unable to work remotely, with some lawmakers suggesting that seniors are willing to die for the economy. Negligence of measures to protect workers such as requiring customers to wear masks and unclear social distancing guidelines will further unnecessarily cost older Granite Staters their lives.

Aside from living facilities and work sites, millions of at-risk seniors may be exposed through family members, caregivers or even while getting groceries – detrimental for the estimated 5.5 million older adults without consistent access to healthy food. These grim figures are compounded by the fact that the Trump administration’s sabotage of the ACA will leave already vulnerable seniors without resources to access essential treatments, medication and care.

Last month, the Trump administration’s lawsuit to repeal the ACA arrived at the steps of the Supreme Court. Trump wants to “terminate” the law despite 27 million Americans losing their employer-based health care coverage, including 100,000 Granite Staters. By undermining the ACA, refusing to open a special enrollment period for people losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic, and proposing significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, the Trump administration is pushing a health care agenda that is hostile to our state’s seniors. These actions will cost seniors more in long-term care, prescriptions, preventative services and insurance coverage.

We owe seniors in New Hampshire more than the Trump administration’s failed response or harmful policies that put the health of our older loved ones in jeopardy. As communities come together to respond to COVID-19, our elected leaders must support them and prioritize their health. Lives are at stake, and we can’t afford policies that will only put Granite Staters at greater risk.

(Oge Young of Concord is a retired obstetrician-gynecologist. State Rep. Gary Woods of Bow is a retired surgeon from Concord.)

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