Reform bill launches long term care debate

It's smart to plan for your future with long term care insurance. It's also smart to provide an option that will keep millions in their homes longer, and help build a scaled industry that can give the homebound quality care at an affordable price.

For the first time Congress may be about to tackle the greatest horror its citizens can face, the problem of long term care.

I have been educated on this subject by Martin Bayne (right), who was part of the long term care insurance industry before being stricken with Parkinson's 15 years ago.

Since then he has lived the nightmare, fighting first on behalf of the industry as Mr. Long Term Care, and as his condition deteriorated against it from a nursing home in Albany, New York.

A provision in the Senate HELP Committee bill, authored by Sen. Kennedy, includes a provision that will let people buy long term care insurance from the government, at a price averaging $65/month. The premiums would raise $58 billion over 10 years, and Democrats hope it will be revenue-neutral.

The main aims of the plan are to draw premium income from healthy people and focus benefits on keeping people at home as long as possible. The $50/day benefit is of little help if you find yourself where Mr. Bayne did early in this decade, stuck in a nursing home before your 50th birthday, but for many it will be a godsend.

Critics like Tom Hebrank, president of the Financial Planning Association of Georgia, fears people will game the system, that the benefit will be inadequate, and that most of those opting-in will be poor people requiring high levels of care.

Maybe.

George Braddock, who calls himself Long Term Care Professor, says the bill replicates products already in the market, attacks the insurance's five-year waiting period, and thinks it will mislead people into failing to plan.

Maybe.

But most people do no planning today. And today people have to bankrupt themselves before the government will give them any help with care, even in their own homes. The bill offers a chance to automate and normalize home care, something private industry has not done.

It's smart to plan for your future with long term care insurance. It's also smart to provide an option that will keep millions in their homes longer, and help build a scaled industry that can give the homebound quality care at an affordable price.

For now I'm going to call this the Bayne bill. We all need to engage in this debate seriously before Mr. Hebrank, Mr. Braddock, or you end up like my friend Martin.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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