Opinion: Understanding the value of long-term care [New Haven Register]

June 2, 2014

By state Sen. Kevin Kelly | New Haven Register

As we age, long-term care insurance offers us a path to living comfortably and independently in our own homes and communities. Long-term care is not always direct medical care, but rather is a range of services and supports that help individuals care for themselves on a daily basis; a key to aging-in-place.

It is estimated that 70 percent of people turning age 65 can expect to use some form of long-term care during their lives.

Unfortunately only 8 percent of Americans have long-term care insurance policies, which cost on average $3,000 per year.

In 2013, I worked with other lawmakers to successfully pass legislation to help residents safely and effectively age in place (Public Act No. 13-250), to help eliminate some penalties people in need of long-term care faced under Medicaid (Public Act No. 13-218), and to modify notification and cancellation requirements for long-term care insurance to better protect policy holders (Public Act No. 13-280). This year, I moved forward new laws to advance recommendations made by the Alzheimer’s disease and dementia task force (Senate Bill 179), to allow Qualified Medicare beneficiaries to purchase Medicare Supplement policies for additional care services (Senate Bill 176), and to reduce the negative impact of long-term care insurance policy rate increases (Senate Bill 199).

We have achieved many successes, but we also need to continue pursuing a multifaceted approach to make long-term care insurance truly affordable.

While we had major wins, there were also missed opportunities this year. Four bills were raised in the Connecticut General Assembly that attempted to issue tax credits or deductions for long-term care premiums to help make the insurance more affordable. I fought adamantly, but all four of these bills died before reaching the floor of the Senate or House of Representatives for a vote.

As a member of the minority party, I am frustrated but not surprised. For the past three years I have proposed similar legislation seeking tax relief in exchange for an investment in long-term care, all of which were quashed by the majority.

That is why I also did something different this year. I, along with a bipartisan group of state legislators with similar aging concerns, reached out to our federal congressional delegation to ask for support in Washington, D.C., for a national above-the-line tax deduction.

There is a problem in the way Connecticut currently views and funds senior care. While we have made small steps in reforming the system, we need to move things along faster. We need both local and national support to make real changes happen.

The need for affordable long-term care insurance will only increase in coming years as the “silver tsunami” hits our senior population, which is set to increase by nearly 70 percent. With such a huge surge, the state will not be able to afford to provide long-term Medicaid services to everyone. Right now, the single largest expenditure in the Connecticut state budget is funding for these Medicaid services, spending about $2.8 billion in 2012. It would be impossible to increase that number in direct correlation with the rise in seniors, and we could be looking at financial disaster.

We need to encourage people to invest in long-term care insurance now, so that we can be sure everyone will have support when they need it most. We all deserve the right and resources to remain in our own homes as we age. We also deserve the safety and security of aging in familiar communities surrounded by loved ones, friends, neighbors and everyday comforts. Long-term care insurance can make universal aging in place a reality, but first we must make access to this insurance a possibility for all people.

Kevin Kelly represents the 21st Senatorial District, which includes the towns of Monroe, Seymour, Shelton and Stratford. He can be reached at 800-842-1421, or [email protected].