Caring for the elderly


THE AVERAGE cost of a year's stay in a nursing home is $25,000. At that price, even the most well-planned retirement savings soon give out.

The "Secure Choice" legislation that Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., and Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., plan to introduce this month tackles the issue head-on, but requires caution: Congress should not offer more than it can afford -- and in the area of long-term care, estimates of cost and demands are sketchy.

One portion of the Packwood-Dole legislation is squarely on the mark. It makes individual and employer-provided long-term care insurance policies more attractive by clarifying the tax code so the costs of insurance and services are treated as medical expenses.

Those changes, coupled with state and federal efforts to clean up long-term care insurance scams, should make older Americans more willing to buy insurance coverage.

But the Packwood-Dole plan to subsidize long-term care insurance for the low-income elderly . . . is more troublesome.

While individuals would pick up part of the cost through insurance premiums, it represents a major expansion of the government's financial role.

Congress should extend those benefits slowly, based on how well individuals' contributions cover costs.

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