Colo. faces looming challenges with aging population
November 29, 2016
DENVER — Colorado needs to create a top executive-level position in state government to help public and private groups handle the needs of the state's rapidly-growing population of those 65 and older, a task force reported Tuesday.
The population of those 65 and older in Colorado is expected to double to 1.3 million by 2030 — representing about 20 percent of the state's total projected population, according to the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging report.
One of the most pressing issues is finding ways to fund a growing Medicaid program that already totals $25 billion, panel members said.
"The most expensive piece is Medicaid, and Medicaid is the fastest growing part of the state budget," said task force member Christian Itin, chair of the Department of Social Work at Metropolitan State University. "If we ignore these issues, we are certain to be spending lots more money on this."
Panel members emphasized that helping Coloradans stay independent as long as they can — and not become dependent on state services until they must — is key.
Their report notes that informal caregiving by family and friends is rising rapidly, as are costs in lost wages, benefits and other expenses to both workers and their employers. Those costs are expected to grow from $3.7 billion in 2015 to $6.6 billion in 2030.
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The challenges posed by generations living longer than ever before merit a top executive position to streamline overlaps in existing services, said Dale Elliott, director of senior and nutrition services for Volunteers of America in Colorado.
Aging millennial numbers will rival those of baby boomers in Colorado, and if these issues aren't addressed, the state could face the same issues more than 40 years down road, he added.
Baby boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964; millennials are those roughly between 1982 and 2004.
"I think what we're proposing is that the state recognize that we're going to be spending more money, just under current law, as this population doubles," Itin said.
The task force recommended that Colorado create the position to coordinate state, local, private and nonprofit efforts to address issues such as affordable housing and assisted living, encouraging retirement savings, covering projected shortfalls in caregivers, and preventing elder abuse and fraud.
Budget-writers also should devise a way to track all state spending related to issues affecting the older population to help lawmakers plan in the near and the long term, according to the initial report, commissioned last year by the Legislature.
A message seeking comment from Gov. John Hickenlooper about any new executive post wasn't immediately returned.
The group will continue to hold meetings throughout the state. It will issue updated reports in 2018 and 2020.
James Anderson can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jandersonap