Wednesday, July 7, 2010

CLASS Act is a Good First Step

Panelists at the 2010 National Dialogue on Long Term Care discussed the challenges associated with the rapidly growing older population, including the skyrocketing costs of long-term care, Medicare and Medicaid. This issue is of great importance because the population 85 years and older is growing at 3% rate, while the general population only grows at a rate of 1%. And those age 85 and older are more likely to need long-term care services and supports.

This event highlighted the problems associated with elders in poor health; however, in reality, millions of elders, even those in good health, struggle to make ends meet. According to national averages of the Elder Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), developed by Wider Opportunities for Women and the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, a single woman renter requires about $20,000 annually for basic needs, not including the cost of long-term care. In fact, long-term care costs can double or even triple what an elder needs to age in place, according to the Elder Index. In Michigan, for example, adding a low level of home and community-based long-term care for one person costs an extra $7,100 on average per year. The highest level of care can add up to $43,600 to living costs.

On the policy front, the staggering cost of long-term care has been addressed, in part, by the CLASS. Act, signed into law earlier this year as part of health care reform. The provisions of CLASS will establish a voluntary long-term care insurance system that today’s workers can pay into for their future long-term care needs.

While the passage of CLASS is an important step forward, there’s still much that needs to be done as the program is put into practice. First, to be successful, employers need to offer the benefit and actively educate their employees about the importance of staying enrolled. Second, employees must recognize how the CLASS benefit can help them afford long-term care services and supports. The Elder Index provides a useful tool for educating both of these audiences about the staggering cost of home and community-based long-term care. The Elder Index makes clear why programs, like CLASS, must be available to help disabled workers and elders afford long-term care.

- Kelly Stellrecht
Field & Program Associate
Elder Economic Security Initiative

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