Long-Term Care Financing: An Urgent Worry We're Lucky to Have, Saint Paul Pioneer Press Editorial

Aug 3rd, 2009 10:22am

There's a train a-comin'. It carries the bills for a couple of wars, a rough recession, a rash of bailouts, a new flood of public debt and an ocean of unfunded liabilities. There's another train a-comin', too. It carries the baby boom, which is likely to stay aboard longer than any generation before it. These trains are going to collide. Whether they hit head on or graze each other depends on how fast we can bend the tracks.

OK, that metaphor's out of steam. We'll park it. Here's the translation: Baby boomers are about to retire and get old and, inevitably, sick. The demand for long-term care is going to explode in the next decade or so, and we're not prepared for it — conceptually or financially.

"We're now facing an entire new set of health costs that we haven't had before and that we didn't anticipate," says Stacy Becker, a St. Paul-based consultant who's organizing a series of workshops on the subject for the nonpartisan, nonprofit Citizens League. "And it's a nightmare."

That's the bad news. But part of this problem owes to good news —people are living longer. More of us, fortunately, don't just retire after 40 years of hard labor and then depart shortly thereafter for that great shuffleboard court in the sky. We get to stretch it out, see some more sunrises, count some more blessings, and along the way get by with varying amounts of help from our friends, family, community. The systems, both private and public, that sustained us in an era of

shorter retirements and shorter lives, a good number of which might have ended in institutional care, were OK for the way we were but not the way we are.

The Citizens League workshops Becker is leading begin this week and are meant to explore that idea, to raise its profile and to help in "creating incentives that produce a financially sustainable system of quality long-term care."

Recognizing "the likely explosive growth in publicly subsidized care and its corollary that more and more people cannot afford the long-term care they need," the project's steering committee decided to frame the workshops with this question: What policy changes are needed to create incentives for personal responsibility for long-term care?

Read full Pioneer Press editorial here.