By Larry Minnix and Marty Ford
Imagine if life’s simplest tasks became insurmountable: driving a car, making a sandwich or buttoning a shirt.
You wouldn’t need to go to the hospital, but surely you’d surely need help. And unless you’re among the six percent of Americans with long-term care insurance, you’d have to pay for that assistance yourself, which can cost thousands of dollars a year.
These are the issues in the health care debate that almost every family will face, but few people want to discuss. Now is the time.
Fortunately, there’s a way to assure that long-term services and supports are affordable for everyone who needs them. Congress is looking to create a voluntary insurance program that would allow adults who have or develop functional impairments to remain employed, independent, and in their own homes. Dubbed the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act (CLASS) Act, this measure would make significant progress in ensuring that long-term services and supports are affordable for all Americans.
Congressional action couldn’t come at a better time. Some 10 million Americans already need long-term services and supports. Experts say that number will swell to nearly 15 million in the next decade.
Many people don’t realize that Medicare won’t pay for long-term services and supports. Indeed, more than 200 million adults lack insurance coverage for long-term care. That’s more than four times the number of Americans without health insurance.
Clearly, our nation’s long-term care system needs reform. That’s where the CLASS Act comes in. The idea is that anyone over 18 could pay premiums through a voluntary payroll deduction. The fund would create a risk pool large enough to significantly lower the cost of long-term care insurance.
The benefit amount would depend on the number of designated “activities of daily living,” like dressing, or eating, that a person was unable to accomplish without help. People unable to perform two or more of these activities would receive approximately $50 per day, while people incapable of performing four or more would receive about $100 per day.
These may seem like small sums, but they can mean the difference between staying independent or having to go to a nursing home. For instance, just $75 a day could allow a husband to hire a personal attendant to care for his wife with Alzheimer’s disease for a half-day while he takes time to go grocery shopping, mow the lawn, and take a break from the constant pressures of caregiving.
The same sum could allow a 50-year-old accountant with multiple sclerosis to hire an aide to stop by each morning to help him get dressed for work so he can continue earning a living.
And because people would pay premiums to participate, the CLASS Act’s insurance benefit would be self-funded. The Congressional Budget Office recently concluded that the Act would reduce the federal deficit by $59 billion over the next decade, in part by helping people avoid costly nursing homes. Sounds like a win-win.
Thanks to demographic dynamics and medical miracles, we are all likely to live longer. In fact, the average life expectancy has increased 30 years in the past century.
But we must ensure that those extra years are quality ones as well. Too many people with manageable impairments have been driven into poverty and deprived of their jobs, homes, and dignity. The CLASS Act could bring those days to a close and allow thousands of Americans to live renewed, productive lives—without putting taxpayers at risk.
Larry Minnix is CEO of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Marty Ford is Chairperson of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.
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