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Just 3% of adults in the United States have their own private long-term care insurance policy. Compare that to the fact that nearly 70% of us will need some kind of assistance with daily activities such as eating, bathing or dressing after we turn 65, and the reality that Medicare doesn’t cover most long-term care costs.

Today, that equation results in a large number of Americans defaulting to Medicaid, a program designed for low-income individuals. Even those who have saved throughout the lives are now finding they are unable to pay for the costs of long-term care, leading them to a place they often find hard to believe – “spending down” to qualify for public subsidy.

A recent Washington Post piece offers a great summary of the key challenges we face in preparing ourselves as individuals and as a country for the long-term care costs that lie ahead.

Our current approach to paying for long-term health care is flawed on many levels. On a public policy level, it simply is not sustainable for government to continue to be the primary source of funding for long-term care, particularly as the number of older adults in Minnesota and across the country grows rapidly.

On an individual level, it is discouraging and disheartening to find oneself in a position of total financial dependence after a life spent planning and saving. Financial strains quickly translate to family stress, which can often lead to physical health impacts for seniors and caregivers. Total reliance on government funding also greatly reduces the flexibility we have to choose when, where and how we will receive care.

It would take far more than a blog post to outline the many options we have to empower more individuals to take responsibility for financing their own long-term care needs, and we will certainly dive into those issues in more detail as we approach the 2012 legislative session.

For now, the most important message is the need for urgency on this topic.

We can’t wait until after the 2012 elections to make real moves on the topic of long-term care reform. We can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good when it comes to building a toolbox of resources that will help people develop an approach that works for them.

What do you think? What creative ideas would you implement to put more control and financial responsibility back in the hands of individuals? What kinds of resources would make it easier for you to save for your own long-term care?

To kick-start your thinking, take a peek at the Moving Beyond Medicaid report created by the Citizens League’s Long-Term Care Collaborative, of which Aging Services was an active partner.


Minnesota’s state demographer Tom Gillaspy posed this tongue-in-cheek question early on in his presentation to a room full of leaders at the Aging Services of Minnesota Annual Meeting in September. Of course we all know the answer – we’ve known about the demographic wall we’re about to hit for many years. However, human nature, political realities and a host of other factors have left us unprepared for the challenges we’re about to face.

An hour-long discussion of the ways our aging population will shape Minnesota’s future – from our economic health to changes in our education, health care and public safety systems – is likely to leave a person seriously stressed or strangely optimistic, depending on your view of the world.

It’s true, the demographic changes we face are significant. Here are a few highlights from Gillaspy’s presentation:

  • In the next 10 yrs, MN will need 46% more healthcare workers to meet the growth in demand for services – especially in older adult field.
  • The single most common and fastest growing type of family in MN is 55+ empty-nesters with no kids at home.
  • In 10 years, MN will add as many people age 65 as we have in the past 4 decades – this number in particular begs the question, if we can’t afford long-term care today, what will we do in 20 years?

Looking at numbers like these reinforces the notion that nothing short of transformational change is needed to recreate our systems for the future. We are officially beyond the point where small changes, cuts and reforms around the edges will be sufficient – we need game-changers to stay ahead of the curve.

But that’s exactly where the opportunity lies and Minnesota is good at game-changers. We have been national leaders in seeing new and different ways to do things, creating unique partnerships, looking beyond how things have always been done and translating possibility into reality.

The evolution of Minnesota’s long-term care system is a prime example of what can be achieved when individuals, businesses, nonprofits, community leaders, families and elected leaders come together to envision something different.

We now face challenges that will require new partnerships and another infusion of energy, commitment and creativity to bring the next wave of game-changers, not just to our health care system, but all across our state.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a snapshot of how Minnesota’s leaders in the older adult services field are looking at the future: A live-poll of 200 Aging Services members at our Annual Meeting revealed that 78% are still optimistic about the future, despite many challenges on the horizon.

What do you think? Does the demographic crystal ball make you cringe, or are you doing new things to help shape the future?

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Aging matters to all of us.

This blog will address the issues, questions, challenges and opportunities that surface as we work to meet the demands of an aging population.

It’s also a place to highlight the people and organizations whose passion, creativity and commitment are shaping the future of older adult services in Minnesota.

Everyone has a story about how aging impacts their life – we hope you’ll join the conversation and share your story.

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