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Giving It All Away - A Caregiver's Dilemma

By  Jose Fox

 

Today, approximately 65 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend. And too often, Iíve seen some of the most dedicated family caregivers wear themselves down to the point where they have nothing left to give, and nothing left to plan for their own eventual long-term care needs. Caregivers, and indeed all Americans, should consider an important piece of the health care reform legislation Ė the CLASS Act Ė as a tool to help avoid an all-too-common caregiver dilemma Ė giving it all away.    
 
According to industry estimates, less than 10 percent of older adults in the United States have purchased private long-term care (LTC) insurance. As a result, Medicaid now accounts for 40 percent of all long-term care services delivered. In some instances, individuals living on the financial edge are forced into poverty in order to receive the long-term care services they need, but cannot afford.
 
Iíve spent much of my career helping family caregivers access the resources to care for loved ones. Iíve encouraged individuals to plan for the future and not let their present caregiving responsibilities distract from that goal. That is why Iím greatly encouraged by this key provision in the new health care reform law aimed to help Americans plan ahead. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act is designed to encourage and empower people to engage in LTC planning, in the belief that we can improve the way we provide health and support services to the elderly and disabled in the future.
 
The CLASS Act establishes a voluntary, long-term care insurance program that will provide cash benefits to eligible enrollees so that they can receive the specific services they choose in the comfort of their own homes or in a community-based setting. By paying a monthly premium, expected to be more affordable than currently priced private policies, enrollees will be eligible for a flexible benefit that can be used to pay for a home health aide, transportation, assistive technology such as lifts, wheelchairs and communication devices, adult day care and respite care.
 
The success of the CLASS Act, like the future of long-term care itself, will depend ultimately on participation across every level of society. It will require awareness from both individuals and businesses alike. In fact, employers could be the key to making sure that the CLASS Act succeeds; because under the terms of the law, they can offer their employees the opportunity to pay their premiums through a payroll deduction. 
 
In a 2009 survey on the economic downturnís impact on family caregiving, conducted by Evercare and the National Alliance for Caregiving, 13 percent of surveyed working caregivers indicated that the economic downturn has caused them to spend more on caregiving expenses. Six out of 10 of these individuals reported having difficulty paying for their own basic necessities, while 63 percent are saving less for retirement. These are deeply troubling statistics.
 
I know that the struggles I see in my community are replicated around the country. Too many frail elders, disabled adults and their families are unprepared to meet their long-term care needs. The stress on working caregivers, in particular, will continue to grow unless more action is taken to make long-term care a long-term priority at the individual, local and national level. Thatís why I will continue to advocate for greater LTC planning and encourage individuals to consider their options including the soon-to-be established public long-term care insurance program.

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