Americans are living longer than ever before thanks to medical advancements and healthy lifestyle habits. But questions remain as to where will these older Americans will live and how they will afford their health care as they age.
The answers may be found in new bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin and Chuck Grassley. Their bill, which recently unanimously passed the Senate Finance Committee, would establish a new Community-Based Institutional Special Needs Plan demonstration program designed to provide home- and community-based services for low-income Medicare-only beneficiaries who need assistance with basic activities of daily living.
Absent of such a program, seniors needing these services often have little choice but to enter a nursing home. But the federal government does not pay for long-term services unless an individual is on Medicaid. That requirement forces seniors to spend down their assets until they become eligible for the program.
Under the present system nobody wins — not the seniors who exhaust their income only to end up in a nursing home where they never wanted to be, nor the government, which now has another person unnecessarily on Medicaid.
Enabling seniors to remain in their homes will significantly improve their quality of life and that of their families while also delivering savings to both the state and the federal governments. One study estimates four-year savings of nearly $60 million among 5,000 Medicare members who postpone or prevent hospitalization and institutionalization.
Grassley-Cardin is a common sense solution whose passage will make life better for frail seniors while serving as a critical step in reshaping the provision and financing of long-term care in America.
Chris Wing, Long Beach, Calif.
The writer is chief executive officer of SCAN Health Plan.