Long-Term Care: The Election’s Forgotten Issue

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Even as many baby boomers devote countless hours to caring for their elderly parents, the problem of how to pay for their own long-term care needs weighs heavily on their minds. Yet, the question of how to help Americans save for future care has not been adequately addressed by either presidential candidate.

It's a question that—given the impending flood of baby boomer retirees—is in desperate need of an answer. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), about 12 million Americans will need some form of long-term care by the year 2020.

"This is one of the looming issues that people don't want to talk about, but we're going to have to talk about it soon," says Brian Feldman, former regional director for the Health Leadership Council and current senior partner at Allison & Partners.

The cost of caregiver insight

People taking care of older family members have the unique opportunity to peer down the dizzying rabbit hole of long-term care possibilities.

They are perfectly positioned to understand the challenges that await them as they get older. Yet, studies have shown that this increased awareness isn't compelling caregivers to take the steps necessary to plan for their future.

Part of the problem is that many simply don't have the cash to spare for their own approaching needs. The current instability of government-funded assistance programs, combined with the financial difficulties of taking care of an elderly loved one, is making it difficult for caregivers to find any funds to put aside for their own care.

For 41-year-old Saideh Browne, raising two children and taking care of her 91-year-old grandmother has decimated her savings. "People like me—caregivers of younger people and seniors—we're not even economically stable anymore. What hope do we have for retirement?" she asks.

A failed attempt at CLASS

President Obama's health care reform bill, the Affordable Care Act, does attempt to remedy long-term care concerns through the creation of the CLASS Act: a provision meant to create a government-funded long-term care insurance program.

However, as of last fall, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suspended the CLASS Act initiative indefinitely.

Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, doesn't see the program being carried out as it is currently written. "You cannot offer long-term care insurance without tax support or health qualifications for applicants and at the same time make it affordable," he says.

Extra revenue in the form of taxes isn't likely to appear anytime soon to fund programs like the one outlined in the CLASS Act—both Obama and Romney are adamant about cutting taxes for at least a portion of the population.

Obama has stated that he does want to raise taxes for Americans in higher income brackets, and on insurance programs with the highest premiums, but any additional money collected will likely go towards keeping floundering government entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) afloat.

Long-term care landscape unchanged

When it comes to footing the bill for long-term care needs, the election will not have much of an impact in terms of increasing the number of financial options available to those nearing retirement age. Aging adults will have to continue to rely on a combination of personal savings, long-term care insurance, family caregivers, and Medicare and Medicaid.

The affordability (or lack thereof) of long-term care is the biggest challenge facing Americans who are at or nearing retirement age, according to Buckley Fricker, J.D., G.C.M., a geriatric care manager and president of Buckley's For Seniors, a companion company for seniors.

Fricker estimates the yearly cost for a person who needs long-term care currently ranges from $25,000 to $125,000, depending on what level of care they need. "The very wealthy can afford these costs and the very poor can qualify for a Medicaid benefit for long-term care, but the average American is going to have a hard time paying for their care," she says.

That's why it's vitally important for boomers to start planning for their own future needs.

Long-term care insurance is one of the best choices currently available for people seeking to secure funds to pay for future care.

The main problem with this type of protection is that it can be pricey and requires applicants to health qualify. Depending on the kind of plan a person is seeking, certain pre-existing conditions (diabetes, stroke, cognitive problems) may prevent them from purchasing a policy.

Given the current political climate, Slome feels that even boomers who consider themselves to be in good health need to start exploring their long-term care options. "I think that people are going to have to plan, and you can't wait," he says, "The longer you wait, the more limited your options are."

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11 Comments

In Canada the rule is everyone's tax is based on a percentage of his or her declared income. No excemptions. It has been said that nations will be judged on how well they cared for their poor and aged.
I wish the people complaining about illegals taking your jobs would educate themselves. Exactly what kind of jobs do you think they are taking? Low end jobs where they don't get insurance or benefits or enough to make a good living. Jobs that legals do not want or even if they got, they could not afford to raise a family. Companies complain that they don't want to have to pay health insurance benefits to employees b/c too costly. Look at the aides who are working in nursing homes and home health agencies that many complain can't speak english. That's b/c they (including the legal immigrants) are the only ones willing to take these jobs, where they have to travel around to people's homes, paying their own gas, no benefits, low pay. Do you really think if there were good old US perfect speaking english us citizens applying for these jobs, these places would be hiring them? These employees usually don't have workers unions to advocate for them. Businesses don't like unions.
Back to this original topic: I don't see long term care as a solution for those of us caring for people now who will need long term care. Not only for cost reasons but when we get to the point that we need it, so will everyone else and those companies will fall apart like the home insurance companies when hit with several hurricanes, could not pay out claims. Also, there will be a shortage of available workers (since we will have chased away all the "illegals". The solution: We need to start thinking that all govt programs are not bad. If, we start diverting medicaid funds from nursing homes for those who don't really need nursing home care, then this means more jobs in the community for the home health care industry, savings since care in home may result in less need for hospitalization (nursing homes are notorious for dumping patients in hospitals at a moments notice for things that are either caused by their lack of care or that could be handled in the nursing home. Businesses should get grants and tax breaks for building good alternative housing for future elders needs - like communities where caregivers can rent or buy living facilities set up for caregiving families with a day program on the grounds, visiting nurses. I'm not taking about assisted living but places for whole caregiving families to live and get support. When no longer needed the caregiver can move out or remain as an employee, opening their homes to those w/o families who need caregiving. We better start thinking differently if we want a decent aging enviornoment for ourselves. Or maybe we should start builiding nursing home and assisted living facilities in places like Haiti and ship our elderly there so the illegals won't need to come here since they will have jobs in their own country and our aging population will get the care they need. (there are so many people in nursing homes and assisted living now who never get visits anyway, they might as well be in Haiti).
ok lets put it this way I am young and in my mid 30's taking care of my husband who is nearing his 50th bday in a few more years but I am also raising 2 children at the same time.
How can they not focus on the home health care because that is where family comes in that does care for their uncles, aunts, grandparents etc come in. Many of us; have sacrificed a normal life to ensure that our spouses etc get what they want. I work and earn money part time as his caregiver but I also have to get a second job but that takes time away from my children growing up in years and going to school in a system created by the govt such as the healthcare system that is completely and utterly fucked over. How are we suppose to survive and how are they suppose to make it without us. I still see them not keeping jobs in our country and i see us being strapped paying for wars we started and still attacking those of us that live below the poverty line and honestly do not give a shit. seriously when and what are these changes going to take place and help those that really need help will lose out. i mean we are on the front of the battle line just like the doctors and nurses who have to suffer giving us sub standard care in the first place because they cannot get their shoes tied right at all in the first place. Candidates for presidency not all of your american citizens are not stupid even the ones that are really poor.