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Jackie Speier Hosts 700 Seniors at a Conference in South City

Health care costs and local farmers markets were hot topics at Congresswoman Jackie Speier's flagship seniors conference that took place on Friday.

About 700 seniors from across San Mateo County arrived in South San Francisco on Friday for the six-hour annual Seniors On The Move conference, sponsored by Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

At the 25th anniversary of the event this year, the lineup included Chelsey B. “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously completed an emergency landing of a passenger aircraft in 2009 on the New York City Hudson River; San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier; and KGO Radio talk show host Ronn Owens, among others.   

Rising health care costs and medical coverage issues specific to seniors were topics of concern for the conference attendants.

The regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, David Sayen, spoke at the event and answered questions from the crowd about health care.

Seniors asked about brand name drug costs, fitness programs for seniors and the cost of hearing aids. One attendant asked why health care costs were more expensive in Northern California than in the southern part of the state.

Sayen said that part of the reason is that there is more competition in Southern California, whereas the northern region is dominated by larger health entitities such as Sutter and Kaiser.

"I think we dispelled a lot of myths," Speier told Patch, saying she was encouraged by the conversation that day. "Benefits will actually increase as the Affordable Care Act [is implemented]," she said, referring to President Obama's health care reform passed in 2010.

Speier founded the conference in 1987 after her grandmother had recently died. She said on Friday that the event has renewed meaning for her, as her father died in September.

One of the most highly anticipated moments of the conference came at the end when farmers from the San Mateo County region handed out bags of locally-grown produce to each senior who attended.

“Last year it was quite a scene,” said Mark Nagales, a congressional aid to Jackie Speier. On Friday, several dozen seniors had already lined up long before the conference had officially ended and the bags were ready to be handed out.

Cynthia Dong, a senior from Foster City, got to the line early to get her bag. Dong had attended the conference of the past several years.

“We learn something new every time,” she said.

The Heal Project, a San Mateo County non-profit that provides science and agriculture curricula and educational programs, helped organize the “farmers’ market” element of the seniors conference.

Several farmers from the area, including Half Moon Bay City Councilmember John Muller, had contributed produce and were present to hand out bags.

Erin Tormey, member of the Heal Project and founder of the Coastside Farmers’ Market, encouraged the seniors to get involved in local farming efforts to stay healthy and share their knowledge.

“I think about your generation and how much you know about that we don’t,” she said. “If you grew a victory garden, we need to know what you know and there’s lots of opportunities for you to help.”

Kaiser Permanente provided the bags to hold the produce, which included beets, kale, brussels sprouts, sunchokes, cherry tomatoes and artichokes.

Steve Wahl of Kaiser said that the health care provider also subsidizes the farmers who provide the produce at the conference. This is the third year that Kaiser has participated in the conference. 

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