Advancing ASA’s Role in Public Policy—2022 Year in Review

As a board member and the chair of the American Society on Aging’s Public Policy Committee, I have been working with our all-member, all-volunteer committee to advance ASA’s role in public policy. Thank you to our dedicated cadre of experts working on behalf of ASA to inform our policy work. The year 2022 has been a turning point for ASA’s policy efforts. We have so much to be proud of!

Building off membership surveys and conversations in prior years to identify areas of policy priority, in 2022, ASA published policy papers on each of our four priority areas:

  • Accelerating Digital Inclusion, focused on three key areas: access, adoption and content.
  • Tackling Ageism, especially in the areas of healthcare, culture and our laws.
  • Advancing Health Equity, focused on improving data, diversifying and training the care workforce, and improving the ability of community-based organizations to deliver inclusive care.
  • Fighting Climate Change, including older people in environmental justice, strengthening emergency preparedness and response, and promoting age-inclusive volunteerism.

ASA is watching the development of bills to help inform our members of our advocacy efforts. We created a legislative tracker that reviews all proposed legislation in Congress that aligns with our areas of policy focus. With more than 120 bills tracked during the 117th Congress, we are starting to analyze trends and opportunities at the federal level. Each of the four policy priority areas garnered interest from various representatives. Here are some highlights:

  • In watching the efforts to accelerate digital inclusion, 17 bills were introduced that would positively impact older adults. Sponsored by leaders in both parties in the House and Senate, none were able to advance out of committee. Many of these bills focused on expanding and upgrading broadband infrastructure, only varying on areas of need. Some attention was also given to advance fraud protection measures to avoid cyber-crimes targeted toward older adults.
  • Tackling ageism through legislation took many forms but several bills introduced focused on discriminatory hiring practices and include age as a possible variable for exclusion. One piece of proposed legislation, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, H.R.4, which would revise parts of existing voting rights laws to ensure that older adults and others do not face undue burden in their fundamental right to vote.
  • More than half of the bills ASA tracked during the 117th Congress fell under the umbrella of advancing health equity. Healthcare costs, accessibility and the ability to age in place were identified multiple times as areas in need of attention. The role of family caregivers was clearly on the mind of legislators as representatives from both sides of the aisle proposed changes to allow family caregivers more flexibility: H.R. 3644, the Expanding Access to Retirement Savings for Caregivers Act, was sponsored by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), H.R.1474; and the Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Act was sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). Republican-sponsored bills typically aimed to allow more financial freedoms to cover healthcare costs. Democratic-sponsored bills often were geared toward making major changes to the healthcare system.
  • Nearly all the climate change bills tracked are reactions to the increase in climate-related national disasters—offering additional funding to provide temporary housing after a disaster or expanding care options for older adults experiencing a heat wave. One exception to this was the Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters Act or the REAADI for Disasters Act, H.R.4938, sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), which establishes programs and requirements to help people with disabilities and older adults with disaster preparedness.

This legislative tracker is available to ASA members in the Policy Collaborative on the Communities platform.

In addition to the release of the Policy Papers and the 117th Congress Policy Tracker, ASA’s policy initiatives also included:

  • Doubling the size of ASA’s Public Policy Committee to support more ASA members in our growing areas of work.
  • Exploring and/or developing strategic partnerships with several new organizations with which ASA has not partnered in the past.
  • Advocating for older adults through our role in the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), a coalition of more than 60 national nonprofit organizations concerned with the well-being of America’s older population and committed to representing their interests in the policy-making arena. ASA partnered with this LCAO on 10 joint letters to Congressional leaders urging action to improve the lives of older adults. We also signed on to nine additional letters with like-minded organizations. These letters include public statements in support of or against legislative proposals, as well as technical enhancements to strengthen them.
  • Writing our own comments to the HHS Office on Civil Rights supporting strong enforcement of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to ACL with ideas on how to strengthen the Federal caregiver strategy.
  • Establishing a Washington, DC, office to bolster our work on federal policy.
  • Publishing an OpEd in The Hill, a top U.S. political newspaper, about the importance of considering age when preparing for natural disasters resulting from climate change.
  • ASA’s CEO Peter Kaldes began a monthly LinkedIn newsletter called For Aging, which demonstrates ASA’s thought leadership on a range of policy issues. As its tagline suggests, “If you’re aging, then this newsletter is for you.”

Going forward we have two bold plans:

  1. To expand ASA membership capacity for policy and advocacy. By this, we mean that we want all ASA members to feel empowered to advocate on behalf of older adults. We will develop training for ASA members on how to advocate at the local, state and federal levels, increase our action alerts to Congress and provide opportunities for ASA members to learn more about our priority areas.
  2. To raise awareness of ASA’s policy priorities with Washington, DC–based stakeholders. Our new DC office will increase ASA’s presence “inside the beltway.” We plan for increased Hill advocacy, we have meeting space to convene ASA members and partners in DC, and we have plans for member meetups.

I also want to give a shout-out to two individuals without whom this would not have been possible—Paul Downey, my co-chair of the Public Policy Committee through Spring 2022 who helped set these changes in motion; and Robert Lowe, ASA’s chief operating officer and staff liaison to the Policy Committee, who recently celebrated his 30-year anniversary with ASA.

The year 2022 was noteworthy for ASA policy work. We can’t wait to build upon this solid foundation as we start the new year!

Amy Herr, MHS, PMP, is director, Health Policy, at West Health’s Washington DC office and an ASA board member.