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.