Paul Ryan: Positive Reforms Will Come to Seniors Housing, but Slowly

SAN DIEGO — Politics may slow down progress, but positive changes are on their way to the seniors housing industry and U.S. healthcare system, according to former Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan.

Ryan’s comments during the opening general session Feb. 21 at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) 2019 Spring Conference. The event drew nearly 1,700 seniors housing professionals to the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, gave a speech before sitting down for a discussion with moderator John Kelliher, managing director of Berkeley Resource Group. Ryan identified Kelliher as a long-time friend with a deep background in legislation, law and the military. The event was Ryan’s first speech since retiring from his political office six weeks prior.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do because we are not ready for the baby boomer generation,” Ryan said regarding seniors housing. 

Ryan identified the top political challenges facing the seniors housing industry as healthcare reform, immigration reform and entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. 

Facing the labor shortage

Ryan said low unemployment is good for the economy as a whole, but creates struggles for business owners who simply can’t find people who are looking for jobs.

“There are more job openings than job seekers right now,” said Ryan. “This industry knows that well.”

Ryan ShrunkThis plays directly into immigration reform, which could be a source of workers for the seniors housing industry. Kelliher noted that the conversation around immigration usually focuses on high-tech workers, agricultural workers and undocumented immigrants. Mid-level workers, such as caregivers in a seniors housing community, are lost in that conversation.

Unfortunately, Ryan believes the rhetoric surrounding immigration has sent politicians “to their corners” and does not expect to see significant changes before the 2020 presidential election. Long-term, though, he believes the majority of Americans agree more than they disagree on this subject.

“There’s going to be a consensus,” said Ryan. “We just have to get through the politics. We’ll get there.”

Ryan also recommended operators reach out to high schools to start developing a “ready-made workforce” of young students interested in working in seniors housing.

“We’re trying to make two-year schools cool again,” said Ryan. “You can have a great career with that type of degree.”

Reworking the healthcare system

Ryan expressed regret that, although he believes Congress got a lot done in his final two years in office, healthcare reform was “the one thing that eluded us.” He also lamented that it’s not likely to happen soon as, “for the current president, it’s just not on his agenda.”

Despite this, Ryan sees many reasons for optimism as the U.S. healthcare system moves from a fee-for-service model to a value- and outcomes-based system.

“The fee-for-service model is an old jalopy from the 20thcentury,” said Ryan. “Value-based care is clearly the way to go, and it is where we’re going.”

Ryan called on industry professionals to help in this process, thinking outside the box and finding new ways to provide better care at a lower cost.

“We need the industry to think of how to best innovate to create value,” said Ryan. “We need the private sector to step up and help the public sector. We need your minds and ideas.”

Although seniors housing faces a great number of challenges, and legislators may appear slow to respond, Ryan described himself as a “hopeless optimist.” He believes government will do the right thing for patients and providers in the end.

“These problems are solvable, but only if our politics allow for it. We’ll probably fix them way later than we should, at the last minute right before it becomes a crisis, but we’ll do it.”

— Jeff Shaw