FORT MYERS, Fla. - Political candidates, usually prepared to discuss any issue, were silent following a question during Thursday night's WINK News-sponsored congressional debate.
The question focused on Florida's low rankings in a recent joint-study by AARP, the SCAN Foundation, and the Commonwealth Fund. The study placed Florida 43rd in the nation for senior care. The state received low scores in affordability and access to care, quality of care, and support for family caregivers.
AARP emphasizes it is a non-partisan organization. However, it is also politically active and supported recent health care reform.
Referencing the recent study, WINK News Anchor Cayle Thompson asked the candidates: "Is it time for a national policy to help handle the cost of our senior care? And how would you work to improve quality of care for our state's aging population?"
Write-in candidate Timothy Rossano gave the first and only response, using his own parents as an example.
"I plan on taking care of them," Rossano said. "That's my job and my responsibility as a child. It's not the government's job to support these people."
Given an opportunity to respond, Republican Curt Clawson, Democrat April Freeman, and Libertarian Ray Netherwood were silent on the issue and the results of the survey.
Contacted again Friday for a response, Freeman told WINK News in a written statement: "In Congress, I will continue the national conversation surrounding financing... and fight for action to address long-term care issues."
Netherwood also offered a response. In the end, he said the problem is an issue for the state to resolve.
"I can't imagine that I'm supposed to require people in Oregon to try to address their eldercare needs or vice versa," Netherwood wrote in an email to WINK News.
A spokesperson for the Clawson campaign offered a one-line response of the AARP study. "The survey reflects a state issue, and it is a state matter," he said.
But senior advocates in Southwest Florida disagree.
"As far as a national policy, yes. It needs to be studied," Senior Friendship Centers executive director Nancy Green-Irwin told WINK News. "It needed to be studied years ago."
Green-Irwin assists senior citizens in Lee County. She says the senior population is growing quickly, living longer, and often outlasting the best-made financial plans.
"Ten thousand seniors turn 65 every single day," Green-Irwin said. "So yes, it's going to be hard to keep up without the community, and the state, and the government helping."
Marianne Lorini of the Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida agreed, but added the work starts on a local level.
"I think Washington is helping," Lorini said. "But I think as a community, it needs to start locally. How do we help these people?"
Lorini said many families want to support their aging loved ones, but are unable to shoulder the mounting medical costs that come with age. Many rely on Medicaid, as Medicare does not cover long-term care.
Lorini and Green-Irwin believe finding a way to improve affordability and access to long-term, in-home care would save money for individual families and, ultimately, taxpayers.
A spokesperson for AARP-Florida said the problem is both a state and federal issue because Medicaid is a primary funder for long-term care.
"Healthcare and long-term care are basically a state issue because it's the state that administers the program," AARP-Florida Advocacy Manager Jack McRay told WINK News by phone Friday. "But that isn't to say the feds don't have a say, because they do. It's a great source of funding ... and those who control the funds have a great deal to say about what can be done."