It’s impossible these days to open a newspaper and not see phrases like “age wave” and “silver tsunami” – and for good reason. Over the next 10 years, the population of seniors age 65 and up in Minnesota will grow by more than 40 percent.
Unfortunately, the “age wave” is too often referred to as a future problem – something that will happen down the road.
The reality is, the need for long-term care services (assisted living, nursing homes, and in-home care) is beginning to rapidly outpace our ability to meet the demand, and without quick action, Minnesotans will be left without access to care.
Earlier this year the Long-Term Care Imperative released the results of a statewide survey of likely voters that should serve as a gut check for all of us – especially state lawmakers.
This is not a future problem, and it’s not just an issue for seniors. The growing demand for quality, affordable care and services for seniors is already a significant concern for a majority of Minnesotans. More than half of Minnesotans are or have been caregivers for an aging loved one – that goes up to nearly 60 percent for women over age 50.
Thousands of Minnesotans are already struggling to keep up with the demands of caring for their own children and maintaining careers, while trying to manage and pay for the care of aging loved ones. Most employers have no idea how many of their employees quietly scramble to make phone calls over lunch, looking for the right doctor, solving problems and preventing a crisis.
We are not prepared. We should be equally concerned about the fact that individual Minnesotans are not prepared to pay for their own long-term care. According to our survey, the vast majority of Minnesotans do not have long-term care insurance, and more than half of all Minnesotans have no plan for how they will pay for their health care and housing needs as they age.
These are sobering numbers, but they’re not surprising. We know we cannot sustain this approach, and there are precious few incentives or tools to make it easier for people to plan and pay for their own needs.
The state has a duty to seniors and caregivers. We do not expect our political leaders to manufacture a miracle this legislative session – but we do think the state has a responsibility to make a difference today by passing reforms that will improve the quality of our futures. Here are three ideas for our legislators to consider:
Work for quality: Don’t let the seniors already in need of care slip through the cracks. Pass reforms that improve the quality of nursing homes so they meet the needs of residents, but also improve other care options–such as assisted living communities – which save the state money and keep seniors independent longer.
Help people prepare: Pass policies that help tomorrow’s seniors be more prepared for their own care needs. Encourage personal savings and create incentives for individuals and employers that purchase or offer long-term care insurance. Give consumers flexibility by allowing for penalty-free conversions of life insurance into long-term care insurance.
Support caregivers: Building a robust menu of options for seniors – ranging from occasional in-home services to assisted living or nursing home care – benefits consumers, caregivers and the state. The state saves significant money by delivering care more efficiently in people’s homes and communities, while seniors and family caregivers get the support and respite they need. We must also ensure that professional caregivers who serve seniors receive pay and benefits that reward the necessary and valuable work they do, regardless of where that care is delivered (nursing home, assisted living, in-home care).
Issues of aging matter to us all. The state has a duty to strengthen our system of care, but we also have a duty as citizens, caregivers, family members and community leaders to ensure that we make long-term care issues and services a priority and demand that our elected officials give it the attention it deserves.
Gayle Kvenvold is the president and CEO of Aging Services of Minnesota. Patti Cullen is president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota. The Long-Term Care Imperative is a legislative collaboration between Care Providers of Minnesota and Aging Services of Minnesota, the state’s two long-term care trade associations.
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