Senior citizens

THE ISSUE

Long-term care insurance is, for most Americans, “prohibitively expensive.” That’s how it was framed by Stateline.org’s Teresa Wiltz for an article in the July 29 LNP. She further explained that “90% of Americans don’t have long-term care insurance — even though half of all people 65 and over will need such care at some point.” And how prohibitively expensive is it? Such insurance can cost a couple in their early 60s as much as $5,600 a year, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

Following Wednesday’s look at food insecurity among college students, here’s another issue we believe needs to be elevated to a greater level of public awareness.

This issue can leave our elderly loved ones extremely vulnerable.

It’s an issue we must discuss regularly, to help guide the work of communities and — especially in this case — lawmakers to lessen the magnitude of the societal vulnerability.

Long-term care insurance is a big deal.

It would be ideal if, as we age and move into our retirement and senior years, our financial pressures lightened.

But for many of us, it’s the opposite financial scenario. Especially if our health, or the health of a family member, declines.

For most — a startling 90% — there is no insurance coverage for that scenario. As Stateline.org’s Wiltz summed up: “Employer-based health insurance doesn’t cover daily, extended care. Medicare pays for only a short stay in a nursing home or a limited amount of care at home.” And the premiums for private plans are simply too high, putting them out of reach for the masses.

It’s a growing issue as millions of Americans head into their retirement years. It will be a problem, too, for the children of those seniors.

More than half of older Americans are likely to need some type of long-term care, Wiltz notes. The 90% without it can be at risk of bankruptcy when trying to deal with a crisis involving assisted living, a nursing home or home health care.

Other dynamics are at play, too, Wiltz notes: “Americans are having fewer children and living longer — in many instances, living longer with chronic conditions such as dementia. Fewer children means fewer family caregivers. Many people aren’t saving enough to pay for long-term care, and the supply of paid caregivers is shrinking.”

The perfect storm.

Or another analogy, perhaps: “This is a slow-moving train wreck,” Howard Gleckman of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute told Wiltz. “At some point, we will have a catastrophe.”

We need our lawmakers to help us mitigate that catastrophe.

There are a few interesting state-level approaches to the problem that Wiltz detailed:

— Minnesota is considering a private-sector option that would “allow the sale of term life insurance policies that convert to a long-term care product once the beneficiary reaches retirement age.” It could entice middle-income parents “who would want financial protection for their young children when they are in their 30s and 40s but would value the long-term care protection for themselves once they reached 65.”

— “The Arizona Senate passed a bill in April that would create a pilot program providing grants of up to $1,000 a year to reimburse caregivers taking care of disabled family members at home.”

— “Washington’s new state-operated plan will pay lifetime benefits of up to $36,500 to help people pay for in-home care (provided by a professional or a family member), assisted living, or a nursing home. It will be funded through a payroll tax of 0.58% for all workers.”

— “In 2017, Hawaii began providing up to $70 a day to residents who work while also taking care of elderly family members at home. Hawaii pays for the program, Kupuna Caregivers, out of its general budget.”

These state-level approaches may seem insufficient, but they’re a good start. A federal solution might be more ideal, but, on the other hand, states legislatures might be wise not to wait around on Washington.

We have a key role, too, in mitigating some of the need for long-term care insurance. In an op-ed for Monday’s LNP, Stuart Wesbury, a Willow Street resident and professor emeritus in Arizona State University’s School of Health Administration and Policy, notes that prevention — taking it upon ourselves to lessen the odds of health and physical problems — is crucial.

“The best news is that it is never too late to do things that will delay and/or minimize the impact of aging,” Wesbury writes. “You can manage your weight, blood pressure, diabetes, breathing issues and back pain. Muscle weakness and balance can be improved. Diseases and impairments may be avoided or at least delayed for months, if not years. Countless exercises, nutritional tips and mental games can positively intervene with your aging process. Just get up and do!”

We agree. We all have a level of personal responsibility for maintaining our health throughout our adult lives. Our actions can have a positive impact.

Of course, as Wesbury also admits, that will never be the entire solution to this complex issue. But it can be part of it.

The problem of long-term care insurance isn’t going to be fixed overnight. It’s a huge vulnerability for Americans. Talking about it with our families, doctors, communities and lawmakers will help move the topic out of the shadows and get it the attention it deserves.