Op-Ed

Looming long-term care crisis threatens Whatcom families. This might be the solution.

The Washington state Long-Term Care Trust Act, funded by payroll deductions, would help cover the costs of nursing-home care or in-home caregivers needed as Baby Boomers age.
The Washington state Long-Term Care Trust Act, funded by payroll deductions, would help cover the costs of nursing-home care or in-home caregivers needed as Baby Boomers age. Getty Images

If you’re like most people, the best-case scenario for your retirement years goes something like this: travel, volunteering, hobbies and time spent with family. That’s what we want, and a lot of us live in the Bellingham area because it’s a great place for an active senior lifestyle.

As the executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Washington, I meet a lot of families whose later lives are following a very different plan, and it’s one full of challenges they never imagined.

Many of those challenges are unavoidably difficult, including how to pay for long-term care. Before I started with the Alzheimer Society, I had no idea the costs associated with caring for someone long-term, nor was it something that was even on my radar. However, I have been confronted with the harsh reality: the cost of paying for someone to help you with basic life functions such as eating, bathing and getting dressed, isn’t covered by Medicare. Those with difficult health problems often require round-the-clock care and specially secured or equipped living environments, which also is not covered by Medicare.

Unless you plan very carefully ahead of time, most families are on their own when it comes to paying for essential services. Faced with costs that can run from $50,000 to $100,000 a year, many families must choose to have someone quit full-time employment to provide care.

Those with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia aren’t the only ones who will need this care: Up to 70 percent of those older than 65 will need these services in their lifetimes and the average lifetime cost for long-term care is $260,000 per person.

This is a problem. Fortunately, there is a potential solution that would ease the financial strain on families in our community dealing with a wide range of long-term care needs.

The Long-Term Care Trust Act is being considered by the Washington State Legislature. It would set up a benefit that would be funded like unemployment, with a small payroll deduction. To be eligible you must work three out of the previous six years or at least 10 years total. The benefit would help cover the costs of nursing-home care, in-home caregivers or any other certified provider in the state.

With the graying of the Baby Boom generation, more and more families will come up against this hole in our safety net. We have an opportunity right now to help ease the burden.

This growing need is also projected to put a strain on Medicaid, which picks up the tab after recipients have spent away all their assets.

The trust would save the state of Washington an estimated $19 million in Medicaid spending in its first year and could save the state $1.4 billion per biennium by 2040.

A broad coalition of community organizations supports this, as currently written, including my organization, The Alzheimer Society of Washington, AARP, Alzheimer’s Association, Caring Across Generations, SEIU 775, the Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging and many more. This is sensible solution would help Washington’s families when they need it most.

Jan Higman is the executive director of the Alzheimer Society of Washington in Bellingham. Reach her at janh@alzsociety.org.

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