Health Care Reform Should Include Long-Term Care

In U.S.A Today this week, elder-care author Howard Gleckman illuminates one of the most important but least discussed issues in the national debate about health care reform: What are we doing to help the elderly and disabled who don’t need acute hospital care but rather personal assistance in their homes. See, “What About Long-Term Care,” May 26, 2009,

Gleckman says Congress is ignoring its chance to change the way our country delivers long-term care (“LTC”), now mostly through Medicare that pays for nursing home treatment which costs thousands more a year than in-home care. Nursing home care could amount to as much as $75,000 a year; a home health aide is paid $20 an hour.

“Congress and President Obama could create a system of universal long-term care insurance, built on a combination of public and private coverage,” writes Gleckman. “They could end the reliance of millions on the welfare-like Medicaid system while reducing the tremendous pressure that program is putting on both state and federal budgets. And, they could further shift the focus of long-term assistance to community care instead of nursing facilities.”

But, concludes Gleckman, long-term care reform is unlikely to happen even though Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Frank Pallone have proposed government-provided LTC insurance that could cost as little as $100 a month.

So where does that leave us? If you are among the seven million Americans who can afford private LTC coverage, you are in good shape to preserve your assets and savings as you age or become disabled. For the rest, this is another wake-up call. Any health reform the federal government is likely to approve won’t be much help for the elderly and disabled. Medicare won’t pay for home health aid, and Medicaid only covers some costs after the patient is impoverished.

Why isn’t the federal government creating a more comprehensive plan? Most likely because it is not getting much help from the most important stakeholder when it comes to the economics of health care, the insurance industry. That industry doesn’t want to take care of the sick, the elderly and the disabled. Rather, insurers are in the business of making money for shareholders. By issuing policies to healthy people then trying to find ways to deny coverage when they get ill, profits can be enhanced. And because they have been getting away with these practices for years means they have no incentive to devise a revolutionary public-private partnership that would provide affordable health care to Americans from the cradle to the grave.

Gleckman calls it a tragedy. What do you think?

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