In This Next Phase Of Health Reform, We Cannot Overlook Long Term Care

It is becoming apparent that President Trump and the 115th Congress cannot start over with health care reform. Whether you love, begrudgingly support, or fervently hate the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a clean slate is not possible. First, ACA implementation is well underway and has benefited many patients and providers alike. Second, it is unlikely that Republicans in Congress can fully repeal the ACA without a 60 vote, filibuster proof super majority in the Senate. Starting over entirely with health reform is just not feasible.

Trying to address every problem facing the health care system at once is a tall—if not impossible—order. History has taught us that U.S. health reform is an incremental process. With the focus of Congress once again turning to health reform, we have an opportunity to fix the problems with the ACA, and find solutions to health care challenges that the ACA failed to address.

A Growing Need

Long-term care for America’s growing elderly population is a critically important issue for Congress to address in health reform proposals currently taking shape. While the ACA’s insurance expansion focused on providing coverage for the uninsured, the law’s progress on long-term care has been minimal. The ACA tried to address long-term care (LTC) by creating a voluntary system of LTC insurance, but the ill-fated CLASS Act was ultimately determined to be financially unviable and abandoned.

Although policy solutions have been elusive, the need for long-term care is constantly growing. According to current estimates, over two-thirds of elderly Americans will need LTC assistance at some point in their lives. Between 2014 and 2040, the portion of Americans over age 65 is expected to increase from 14.5 to 21.7 percent. At upwards of $60,000 annually, long-term care costs can quickly exhaust personal savings.

As policymakers throughout our history have debated health reform, these efforts have almost entirely centered on questions of medical coverage. They ask which benefits to cover, how much the coverage should cost, and how we can ensure people are not locked out of coverage because of their health status. We must take the same approach to LTC, examining the availability and affordability of services. LTC services include nursing home care and in-home care, as well as what is often referred to as “long-term services and supports” (LTSS). LTSS include assistance with daily activities, such as eating, bathing, dressing, doing laundry, paying bills, and taking medications.

Current Republican health reform proposals appear to do little to push the ball forward on long-term care. As Congress considers proposals to reduce federal spending on Medicaid, they should carefully consider the role of Medicaid in financing LTC.


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