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Saturday, April 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Kate Burke: Long-term care act would give families peace of mind

Kate Burke

This past month, the Long-Term Care Trust Act made it over its first major hurdle and passed the Washington state House of Representatives. The bill now moves to the state Senate, and I urge lawmakers to act quickly to pass this critical legislation, which will provide peace of mind and financial security to countless families as they navigate the challenges of aging and needs for long-term care.

As a young person without any chronic conditions, I don’t think about my long-term care needs very often. But as a City Council member who tracks demographic changes here in Spokane and our region, I recognize that one of the biggest questions facing our city and the state is: How are we going to care for our growing population of seniors without forcing them into poverty?

Research and experts understand that three in four adults over 65 will need some kind of long-term care, but 90 percent of people have no long-term care insurance. Many people wrongly assume that Medicare will cover all of their needs, but it rarely covers long-term care, which results in people pouring all their savings into care until they impoverish themselves and can then only access care through Medicaid. The financial strain of caring for the elderly falls on our families, our infrastructure and our economy and it has ballooned into a crisis that requires urgent action.

This fall, dozens of seniors were evicted from The Academy Retirement Community, a senior-living facility here in Spokane, after it was sold to new management. All over the age of 62, those 90 residents were given 45 days to pack up and leave the home they had expected to live in the rest of their lives. The Spokesman-Review reported on the anxiety and fear residents and their families felt having to find new accommodations in a housing market lacking a place for low-income seniors, and tragically, five seniors died within weeks. Workers have shared with me that they believe the trauma of losing stable housing and access to care greatly contributed.

It is unacceptable that this preventable tragedy unfolded in our community and that we failed to care for some of our most vulnerable residents. Just as it’s unacceptable that some families have to go bankrupt just to provide care for their loved ones. It is clear that we need to find new solutions for seniors to support them and make sure that they are cared for with the love and respect they deserve.

Long-term care gives people the choices they need to be cared for properly, whether that is in a senior living facility or in their own homes. This is a critical level of support that we can provide for the growing number of people who will need assistance with the most basic of daily tasks like bathing, dressing and managing medications. The Long-Term Care Trust Act would make it so that we all pay in a small amount, a monthly payroll premium of just over half a percent, over decades so that when faced with an expensive bill, we all have access to care immediately.

With more and more Washingtonians in the baby boom generation approaching retirement age, it is essential that we deal with this crisis before it spirals out of control. Many families have been left to make tough decisions on how to care for aging parents and current long-term care insurance options can be expensive and limiting. Family caregivers must often sacrifice their careers and everyday lives to make sure that their loved ones are cared for when other options are too costly. The AARP estimates that Washington has over 800,000 unpaid family caregivers that often spend up to 20 percent of their income on out-of-pocket costs. This bill would lift some of the financial burden on these caregivers and provide them with the training they need to be successful. If we do nothing, we not only leave these families with pain and insecurity, but we could also see state Medicaid costs double to $4.1 billion a year by 2040. The Trust Act is projected to save taxpayers billions of dollars ($3.9 billion by 2052) by reducing the number of people who have to impoverish themselves to access Medicaid.

Long-term care coverage is the biggest uninsured risk we currently face and we cannot afford to wait to address it. If we do nothing, the impact on not only our state budget, but on families’ financial security will be devastating. The Long-Term Care Trust Act gives families the peace of mind that they can get the care they need when they need it most without the added strain of figuring out how to pay for it. Please contact your legislators and urge them to support House Bill 1087. The Legislature should pass this legislation without delay.

Kate Burke is a member of the Spokane City Council.

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