FERTILE, Minn. — According to some in the business, Minnesota’s nursing-home system is in financial trouble in large part because people seem to think that no matter what their net worth, when it comes time for long-term care, they have a right to go on the dole.
“Well,” they say as they set up a way to hide their assets, “if we don’t do something, it’ll all just go to the nursing home!”
Since when is it unfair to expect a person to use their assets to pay for their own care?
Yet, when faced with a $3,000 per month bill, people who spent their lives looking down their noses at people who live on welfare suddenly think they’re entitled to it themselves.
Sometimes it is offspring salivating over their parents’ wealth who become the most infuriated at the cost of nursing-home care.
“Ma and Pa’s money’s going to be gone before I get my hands on any of it!” the moochers lament.
The vultures forget that they don’t have any right to any of Ma and Pa’s money in the first place. Ma and Pa’s money is for the benefit of Ma and Pa alone.
Greedy relatives who are offended at the cost of nursing-home care should consider caring for their elderly relatives themselves and see how they like that.
The assumption seems to be that the nursing home doesn’t provide any benefit in return for what it charges. In fact, nursing homes provide a tremendous service at the lowest rate possible.
Underpaid workers, important work
Nursing homes are staffed by underpaid workers who do some of the most important and sometimes unpleasant work in town.
In addition to providing medical care, nursing-home staff are often the only “family” elderly people have.
Nobody’s making big money. Few nursing homes even make a profit. After recent state and federal cuts, most facilities in Minnesota are skidding along just below break even.
At the present rate of funding, the system will bleed to death.
A great system, worth paying for
We have a great nursing-home system in rural Minnesota. Unlike other parts of this country and the world, we take good care of our old folks.
But it takes money to provide humane and competent 24-hour care. That money has to come from somewhere.
Some people can afford to pay their way, others cannot. Some can afford to pay for a while before having to go on assistance. That’s how it was supposed to work.
Gaming the system
The system was not designed to handle people who have plenty of land or money who think they have a right to go on public assistance rather than pay their own way. When these people lawyer up to “protect” their assets, they do little more than game the system. They are bankrupting it in the process.
The only beneficiaries are usually ungrateful children.
Inheritance is not a right. In fact, it is downright evil. Inheritance creates hard feelings between generations. It makes some people wish others dead.
Of course, the law has loopholes that permit people to pass their assets on while they go on welfare. There are lawyers who do nothing but find perfectly legal ways to do this exact wrong thing.
But because of these loopholes and those who exploit them, we are eventually going to have to raise taxes on people in their productive years to keep our elder-care system afloat. There is simply no other way to preserve a decent system of elder care that is about to be overwhelmed by an age wave.
An ingenious alternative
One Minnesota legislator has come up with an ingenious solution.
As tax law stands now, you stop paying Social Security taxes on income over $110,000. Above $110,000, your effective tax rate actually goes down.
Minnesota could simply apply the tax rate of those who make just under $110,000 to income above that by replacing the Social Security tax with a state tax devoted to elder care.
Such a tax could raise $1 billion in revenue annually.
It would place Minnesota’s elder-care system on a solid footing for decades to come.
Probably little chance
It would also be the largest tax increase in Minnesota history. For that reason, I doubt the idea stands a chance – at least until old people start getting thrown out on the street.
In the meantime, however, we should have no sympathy for people who scurry to find a way to keep their money away from the nursing home so they can give it to their kids.
The kids don’t deserve it. Ever.
The nursing home does.
Eric Bergeson, of Fertile, Minn., is studying rural long-term care under a two-year fellowship from the Bush Foundation.
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