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Casey’s bipartisan legislation would advance a more streamlined health care experience for people who receive both Medicare and Medicaid

An estimated one in four older adults experiences a mental health condition, including depression, anxiety and substance use disorder

Washington, D.C. - On Thursday, May 19, U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) held a hearing entitled, “Mental Health Care for Older Adults: Raising Awareness, Addressing Stigma, and Providing Support,” which examined opportunities to improve mental health services for older adults and address gaps in services to support seniors with mental health or substance use disorders. In 2020, individuals age 85 or older had the highest suicide rate. The opioid epidemic has also severely burdened older Americans—almost 80,000 older adults died from an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2019.

Chairman Casey also highlighted his new bipartisan legislation with Aging Committee Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC), the Advancing Integration in Medicare and Medicaid Act, to expand state efforts to integrate Medicare and Medicaid benefits, including mental health care, for people who receive care through both programs. The bill would promote an easier and more streamlined health care experience for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. Chairman Casey also introduced legislation that will give states funding to develop and execute Medicaid and Medicare integration plans, the Supporting States in Integrating Medicare and Medicaid Act.                                                                                    

“Due to unrelenting stigma towards mental illness, so many older adults suffer in silence,” said Chairman Casey. “The pandemic only worsened this crisis, as older adults were forced to isolate in their homes, away from their family and friends. The reality is that too many older adults today face fragmented systems and roadblocks that prevent them from accessing the support they need. My bipartisan legislation would require states to develop a plan to address fragmentation in Medicare and Medicaid. These are the very programs which so many older adults rely on for their mental health. We must make mental health care a priority and do more to ensure our Nation’s seniors have meaningful access to all their health care needs.”

Chairman Casey invited Jim Klasen, a Certified Older Adult Peer Specialist (COAPS) Facilitator from Elkins Park, PA, to testify at the hearing about his experience as an older adult with mental health challenges and a substance use disorder. Jim testified, “As an older adult myself … I can relate to the reluctance, embarrassment and stigma many face in dealing with and disclosing mental health and substance use challenges. We all know the population of older adults is growing. Those of us who are older come with mental health, physical health, and yes, even substance use issues…We need well-coordinated, comprehensive services that includes peer support. I also know that this is not just an issue for older folks alone but is a societal issue with many implications. I hope that sharing my lived experience with mental health and substance use challenges helps the policy and program conversation.”

Read more about the Advancing Integration in Medicare and Medicaid Act here.

Read more about the Supporting States in Integrating Medicare and Medicaid Act here.