May 12, 2021

Biden Takes On Sagging Safety Net With Plan to Fix Long-Term Care

Given the magnitude of the need, some wonder whether there might be a better approach to shoring up long-term care than giving more money to Medicaid. The program is perennially challenged for funds, forced to compete with education and other priorities in state budgets. And Republicans have repeatedly tried to curtail its scope.

“It’s hard to imagine Medicaid is the right funding vehicle,” said Robert Espinoza, vice president for policy at PHI, a nonprofit research group tracking the home care sector.

Some experts have suggested, instead, the creation of a new line of social insurance, perhaps funded through payroll taxes as Social Security is, to provide a minimum level of service available to everyone.

A couple of years ago, the Long-Term Care Financing Collaborative, a group formed to think through how to pay for long-term elder care, reported that half of adults would need “a high level of personal assistance” at some point, typically for two years, at an average cost of $140,000. Today, some six million people need these sorts of services, a number the group expects to swell to 16 million in less than 50 years.

In 2019, the National Academy of Social Insurance published a report suggesting statewide insurance programs, paid for by a dedicated tax, to cover a bundle of services, from early child care to family leave and long-term care and support for older adults and the disabled.

This could be structured in a variety of ways. One option for seniors, a catastrophic insurance plan that would cover expenses up to $110 a day (in 2014 dollars) after a waiting period determined by the beneficiary’s income, could be funded by raising the Medicare tax one percentage point.

Mr. Biden’s plan doesn’t include much detail. Mr. Gleckman of the Urban Institute notes that it has grown vaguer since Mr. Biden proposed it on the campaign trail — perhaps because he realized the tensions it would raise. In any event, a deeper overhaul of the system may eventually be needed.

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