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For a long time, senior care advocates, lawmakers and the media talked about the Age Wave as something that was “on the horizon” – somewhere out in the future.

Today, that wave of growing demand is on our front door step, and it’s time to ask a key question: Is Minnesota ready?

The second (here is the first) in a series of infographics from the Long-Term Care Imperative focuses on the demographic and economic realities we face, and how Minnesotans feel about specific proposals to help the state – and individuals – prepare for the future.

There is no single, magic way to prepare Minnesota for the changing needs of an aging population. We will need government, individuals, families, senior care providers, caregivers and entire communities to work together.

The Age Wave isn’t coming to Minnesota – it’s here.

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A few weeks ago, we released the results of a statewide public opinion poll commissioned by the Long-Term Care Imperative. The results were both fascinating and worrisome.

“These numbers are striking in the reality they depict. Minnesotans act as caregivers for loved ones while they are financially unprepared for their own long-term care needs,” said Gayle Kvenvold, President and CEO of Aging Services of Minnesota. “We face a looming economic crisis as our population ages. Now is the time to advance real solutions that will protect access and quality of care for all Minnesota seniors and their families.”

At a very high level, four key themes emerged from the poll: 

1.    Minnesotans are not prepared to pay for their care.

2.    Access to quality senior care is a right, not a privilege.

3.    Caregivers (formal and informal/family) need more support and resources.

4.    Minnesotans support reform proposals that will achieve four key outcomes:

  • Improve care for seniors first and foremost
  • Address a looming crisis in our state
  • Improve conditions for caregivers
  • Improve the economy by delivering care more efficiency and strengthening the long-term care workforce

What do you think when you see these numbers? We know Minnesotans want to remain independent for as long as possible as they age, but we also know most won’t be able to pay for the care they need and want.

We’ll continue to post excerpts and additional findings from the Long-Term Care Imperative poll in the coming weeks – stay tuned.

Over the weekend, Lori Sturdevant of the Star Tribune wrote a thoughtful opinion piece on the critical need for Minnesota to change the way we pay for long-term care. The article was the result of a meeting several weeks ago with six key leaders who represent a diverse cross-section of section of Minnesota’s business and civic circles.

This is exactly the kind of attention this problem demands. The apparent demise of the federal CLASS Act is disappointing evidence that we cannot wait for someone else to address the serious and imminent challenge of funding long-term care, particularly for the poorest and most frail seniors.

During the meeting with Sturdevant, Eric Schubert with Ecumen hit the nail on the head: “This is a Minnesota problem with an opportunity for a Minnesota solution.”

Exactly. So are we up to the challenge?

There are no silver bullets when it comes to this issue. Our success depends on our ability to develop a system of options and avenues designed to empower individuals to take greater control over their future, while also strengthening the safety net for those most in need.

Creative, strategic measures, products, services and systems will combine to transform the way we save and pay for long-term care. After touring the state talking to Minnesotans of all ages and backgrounds, the Citizens League created a report titled “Moving Beyond Medicaid” that offers up several examples of the kinds of solutions that could make a real difference.

Gayle Kvenvold of Aging Services of Minnesota highlighted many of the measures in the Citizens League report, as well as additional insight and urgency on this topic in a recent opinion piece in the Star Tribune.

And on January 12th, top experts from across the country and right here in Minnesota will gather at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota for a day-long forum on this very topic. The fourth annual Long-Term Care Financing Solutions Forum is free and open to the public. It is an opportunity to look closer at the very real and practical ways Minnesota can be a leader on this issue, as we have in so many other areas of our health care system.

Slowly but surely, there has been a notable increase in public discussion about the urgent need to change the way we plan and pay for long-term care. This is a welcome development and critically important to our success – but if we aren’t able to harness talk into action, we will fail.

Will Minnesota wait for someone else to solve this problem, or will we step up with our own solutions?

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.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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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