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KC Checkup is a profile series featuring leaders in the Kansas City area. Each month, health reporter Alex Smith talks with health care professionals about how Kansas City fares on health and what we need to improve.

KC Checkup: Five Questions For Pam Seymour

Alex Smith

The older you get, the more complicated and expensive health care becomes. A study from the National Institutes of Health shows that half the money that’s spent on Americans’ health is spent on care after age 65.

That’s why changes to the health system – like the Affordable Care Act and Medicare reform — can be especially concerning to older people.

As executive director of Shepard’s Center Central, Pam Seymour is familiar with those concerns. The Kansas City-based group provides support for people 50 and older.

She answered five questions as part of our monthly series, KC Checkup:

There have been a lot of big changes to health care both locally and nationally in the past few years. What change do you hear older people in Kansas City most concerned about?

The biggest concern seems to be those that are on Medicare – in the group we usually serve – wondering what the ACA is going to do to Medicare. ‘Is there something I need to do, or does life go on as I know it? Am I going to have to pay more? Am I going to have less services? Or what?’

So we spend a lot of time just educating people who are already on Medicare: the Affordable Care Act really doesn’t affect you.

What kinds of myths or misconceptions do you most often hear from people about changes to healthcare or changes to Medicare?

One of the biggest myths we hear is that everybody’s going to be able to get insurance, and that’s really not true, especially with Missouri not expanding their Medicaid. What we saw when we were doing open enrollment for the health exchange – and it’s a very sad situation, and everybody ought to have to sit through a counseling session as we did. When people come in they want desperately to be enrolled in insurance because they’ve never had insurance; they have health issues that they need to have covered, but they don’t make enough money. And so it’s really hard to tell somebody, ‘I’m sorry. Your premiums are X amount, which is probably more than you make each month, but you’re too poor to really qualify for any premium discounts.’

That’s a really tough thing to have to tell someone. How can you be too poor for insurance? But that’s really what in effect it is, because of Missouri and Kansas choosing not to expand their Medicaid.

How would you rate the livability of Kansas City for older people or for those 50-plus?

I think Kansas City is great for older adults. The one thing that continues to be a stumbling factor, though, is the transportation issue, which isn’t just an issue for older adults. It’s an issue for everybody in Kansas City.

The second thing I would say is – Kansas City has a lot of resources for older adults, but we need to do a better job of centrally locating those resources. Because I know, from being a caregiver to my mother for several years – and I work in the aging field – it was hard to find the services that were available. It wasn’t just one call that you made, and you found all the services you need. There’s a lot of community organizations – us included – that are working on that initiative of how to bring all those resources into one place for referral out.

How good of a job does Kansas City do in taking care of lower-income 50-plus and retired people?

You know, I think they do a fair job. I think there is, in addition to transportation issues, I think there’s also issues for affordable housing for older adults. So if you are an older adult, and you don’t own your own home, sometimes the housing could improve. I mean, subsidized housing – safe subsidized housing for older adults – I think there’s a real need for that here in – especially in the midtown area.

You see a lot of people moving into later stages of life. I’m wondering: what advice do you have for people preparing to and thinking about getting older?

Plan. The big, big thing is to plan. Most people, I think, are going to plan to age in place. And there’s all kinds of considerations that one needs to look at other than just the house that they live in. Community plays a part in that, transportation plays a part in that, family plays a part in that. And there’s just a whole host of things that people need to think about when they are aging. You know, they’re retired, and they’re aging, and things are changing in their lives, and the sooner that you think about that and talk about that with your loved ones, with your family, etcetera, the better equipped you’re going to be to meet life’s challenges as you get older.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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