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Sen. Bill Nelson speaks to Hispanic seniors about concerns

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, center, practices his Spanish with Jesus Nieves and Rosa Gonzalez as they play dominoes at the Town ’N Country Senior Center in Hillsborough County on Monday.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, center, practices his Spanish with Jesus Nieves and Rosa Gonzalez as they play dominoes at the Town ’N Country Senior Center in Hillsborough County on Monday.

TAMPA — Jacklynn Hurst's questions about her future grow.

The 70-year-old wonders: What's going to happen to me tomorrow? Will Medicare be around? How good will my quality of care be?

"Will my children be able to afford to take care of me?" she asked.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, state Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, and a panel of local, federal and nonprofit officials who work with senior citizens addressed these concerns Monday at a roundtable discussion of aging issues affecting area Hispanics. They met at the Town 'N Country Regional Public Library.

Amid all the pressure to reduce the federal deficit, Hurst and other seniors invited to the event wondered whether Medicare could be carved up.

"There is a lot of fear among senior citizens because they see Medicare under attack in the political arena," Nelson said. "Let me assure you, you don't need to worry."

Medicare will not be trimmed, Nelson pledged, adding "we have the votes" to protect the federal health insurance program. He also told the group about legislation passed over the past decade, as well as planned reforms, aimed at helping caregivers take care of elderly family members outside nursing homes.

"It just makes common sense," Nelson said. "If you can keep the senior citizen in the home, it's just a better quality of life. It also saves the government a whole lot of money."

While Nelson explained how legislative changes increased caregiver benefits, the panel of federal and Hillsborough County aging services officials elaborated on specific programs and protections available, such as work leaves allowed by the Department of Labor to care for elderly family members.

"I was impressed with personal health care (benefits) and what's available," Helen DeMarco, 83, said. "I was very impressed with him saying Medicare is safe because that's the biggest issue facing us."

According to the Administration on Aging, significant health disparities exist for Hispanic seniors, ranging from poorer access to health care to problems controlling diabetes. According to the U.S. Census, in 2009 Hispanic people made up 7 percent of people 65 and older. By 2019, that population is expected to become the largest racial or ethnic minority in that age group.

In 2008, 16 percent of Hispanics 65 and older lived in Florida, third-most in the United States, according to the Administration on Aging.

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3368.

Sen. Bill Nelson speaks to Hispanic seniors about concerns 04/09/12 [Last modified: Monday, April 9, 2012 10:00pm]

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