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Politicians gather to discuss health care

Vivian and Brian Taylor woke up at 5:30 Monday morning and drove to Tampa from Dunedin. It?s not a trip the couple make every day, but a trip they thought was important because it affects their future.

As older Americans, the Taylors are a sample of Florida?s rising elderly population. As that segment of the population grows, so does the need for adequate health care and social services.

Political leaders and those in the medical community addressed those needs Monday at College of Public Health. during a summit on aging and long-term health care.

Vivian said she came because she?s interested in the future of long-term health care, from its cost to its quality.

?I?m of that age where I have to care,? she said. ?The cost of health care ? it?s getting out of sight.?

According to the 2000 Census, nearly 2.8 million adults aged 65 and older reside in Florida, and many of those adults live on fixed incomes.

Monday?s summit was designed to generate ideas that lawmakers could take back to Capitol Hill.

Sen. Bob Graham is leading the push to pass legislation in Congress that would give tax deductions to those who purchase long-term health insurance and give a $3,000 tax credit to help cover long-term care expenses.

?It?s not an abstract concept,? Graham said of Bill S. 627, which he said he hopes to get approved this session. The incentives would benefit those using home-based health-care services.

?Much of our concept of care is based on a rural concept,? he said ?Elderly wanting to stay at home, where they grew up and raised their families, rather than going to an assisted-living facility. Our number one challenge is to give as much support as possible to aging in place.?

Kathryn Hyer, director for the Training Academy on Aging at USF, said states need to put more money into home and community based services instead of the normal funnel to nursing homes.

?Basically, they fear going to nursing homes,? she said. ?We desperately need to honor what they want and their autonomy. We need to honor our mothers and fathers, and let them choose.?

Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and former secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, said independence is what the elderly need.

?We can?t give our seniors less freedom than they do now,? she said.

According to the Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging at USF, about 75 percent of people age 70 and older have no plan for long-term health care.

Ann Darby, director for Elderly Services in Polk County, said she attended the meeting to get information and ideas she can take back to her agency.

?I recognize how the puzzle is put together, and it?s a challenge to fit the (those pieces) together,? she said.

Darby added, ?I?m a senior too, so you always have a selfish interest at heart.?

Graham said he also has selfish interests as he is less than two months from his 65th birthday.

?So it?s more than just a theoretical interest,? he said.

Contact Selina Romanat