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Health in Older Adulthood

Supporting expanded access to health care for older minority adults in the COVID-19 pandemic

APA called on the Senate Special Committee on Aging to expand access to behavioral health services for seniors to reduce COVID-19 racial health disparities.

Cite this
American Psychological Association. (2020, August 3). Supporting expanded access to health care for older minority adults in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elderly man

APA submitted a letter (PDF, 306KB) to the Senate Special Committee on Aging for its July 21 hearing on COVID-19 and racial health disparities to ensure the committee considered mental health care for older adults, and to apprise the committee of APA’s support for legislation that would advance care and services for those populations.

Older adults are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and if they are minorities, they are even further negatively impacted. Recent data produced by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) show African American Medicare beneficiaries have been hospitalized four times as often as Caucasians, and have contracted the virus nearly three times as often as Caucasians of a similar age. Hispanics and Asians were also more likely to become infected and hospitalized than Caucasians. People on both Medicare and Medicaid were far more likely to get the coronavirus.

APA called for expanding access to physical and mental health services, including making permanent the waivers allowing providers to use telehealth across state lines and audio-only telehealth where necessary. Audio-only services are especially critical for mental health access for many older Americans, as this technology can be easier for them to use. Congress can increase the number of mental health providers through the Medicare system by enacting the Medicare Mental Health Access Act (H.R. 884), which would remove a roadblock that hampers and delays mental health treatment for Medicare beneficiaries by ending unnecessary physician sign-off and oversight of psychologists’ services in some Medicare settings.

APA also recommended passage of the Emergency Support for Nursing Homes and Elder Justice Reform Act of 2020 (S. 4812). The legislation includes provisions to improve nursing home care, including promoting transparency about COVID-19 related cases and deaths. It also includes recommendations for improving the quality of nursing homes and addresses racial disparities. APA has made recommendations to include further mental and behavioral health provisions in the bill and to alleviate obstacles to improve access to psychological care.

APA encouraged the Senate Committee on Aging to continue to speak out against the specter of ageism in the COVID-19 pandemic. The diverse population of older adults in the U.S. includes retired medical personnel who answered the call to volunteer their services in COVID-19 hotspots, caregivers of older and younger family members, and residents of nursing homes. The most concerning manifestation of ageism in this crisis is the consideration of age in the allocation of medical treatments. Such a blunt criterion fails to recognize the diversity among older adults and punishes individuals for their station in life.

APA shared useful resources from its website on multicultural aging and COVID-19 and aging that were developed by the APA Committee on Aging and its Office on Aging.

For more information contact Pat Kobor.