My friends and I hate to admit it – we believe that a person is only as old as they feel – but judging by our birthdays we all qualify as elders.  Elders sounds so much more dignified than “old” right?   

At least in West Virginia I don’t feel alone in my elder status.  Over-65-year-olds make up 20 percent of West Virginia’s population and that percentage is growing. The Oldest States in America study ranks the Mountain State as 3rd in the nation for residents in the 65 and counting category and 2nd for the 74-plus category.  I can’t resist this:  many Mountaineers could be considered over the hill.  

Despite the bad pun, many older folks in West Virginia live independently and vibrantly.  And it is important to us that we continue to do so.

The Build Back Better legislative package being debated in Congress will help older West Virginians.  Significant provisions include:  1) lowering the cost of health insurance as we enter our senior years; and 2) expanding opportunities to age safely at home rather than in a nursing home.

Before we reach the magic age of Medicare eligibility at 65, older West Virginians need to take care of ourselves so we address health issues before they worsen or debilitate. We need good health care. For those of us who do not qualify for Medicaid, that means buying private health insurance.  

Build Back Better would permanently extend the larger premium subsidies that Congress passed earlier this year.  These larger premium subsidies are especially helpful to older West Virginians.  For example:

  • For any person with $30,000 in income, premiums dropped from $195 per month to $85 for a good “silver level” plan. 
  • A 64-year-old who was just above the prior income eligibility level for premium help (the so-called “subsidy cliff”) had premiums drop from $1,535 to $368 per month, saving $14,004 in 2021.  
  • A 60-year-old couple making $70,000 in household income had premiums drop from $2,778 per to $496 per month, saving $27,384 in 2021.

Saving more than $14,000 a year or $27,000 a year in reduced health insurance costs can change the entire financial equation for West Virginians as they approach Medicare eligibility.  

In fact, health insurance premium savings can be a financial game-changer.  By making the cost of taking care of ourselves as we age much more affordable, we can save more for our retirement years.  Lower health insurance costs also mean we go into retirement with less debt to pay off.  And these savings for us also save Medicare (federal government) money when we enter Medicare in better health.

Once we do reach our elder years, most West Virginians want to continue to live in our homes. But sometimes to stay in our homes, we need someone to check that we haven’t fallen.  We may need help getting the blanket off the top shelf or keeping our meds straight.  We might need someone to help us dress or safely step into the tub. Our kids may not live close-by or they work full-time.

Unfortunately, home health care worker shortages have reached crisis levels. A recent national poll found that nearly 7 in 10 workers in nursing homes, home health workers, or in other long-term care settings feel the impact of the shortages; 19 percent have quit their jobs since February 2020.  

There are key provisions in Build Back Better that will provide to states the funds needed to improve quality of and access to home care services. 

The legislation will allow West Virginia to create long-term training opportunities for home health workers and increase their wages which in turn increases the supply of workers.  Build Back Better also will make sure that no wife or husband is left impoverished because their spouse needs long-term services at home, not in a nursing home.  

With so much at stake for our West Virginia elders, as a card-carrying member of AARP, I call on all my senior-discount-age friends and neighbors to call on our Congressional Delegation.  May elder wisdom come to Senator Manchin.  And we old folks vote and we will remember (even if we have to write it down) who does and does not support Build Back Better.