NU Online News Service, March 30, 2004, 5:01 p.m. EST, Washington – Congress could enact long term care insurance legislation next year, but first it has to learn more about insurance.[@@]

Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., who chairs the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, made those comments at a conference sponsored by the National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, Va.

Johnson says advocates of LTC legislation have gained some ground in recent years but have not yet won the battle. One reason, she says, is that many people on Capitol Hill don’t understand insurance.

Today, people who need long term care must spend down their resources until they are near poverty. Then, Medicaid will pay for care.

The current policy is costly for taxpayers and terrible for families, Johnson says.

If Congress fails to act, the Medicaid LTC entitlement eventually will take up three-fourths of all federal revenue, Johnson says.

Encouraging the purchase of private long term care insurance is a perfect example of a way to provide tax relief, give people something useful at a price they can afford and reduce the burden on the government, Johnson says.

Similarly, she says, supporting purchases of private insurance is the way to deal with the problem of the uninsured. Johnson says some in Congress supported legislation that would have the government pay two-thirds of the health insurance premiums of people who were unemployed. Those receiving the assistance would be able to purchase health insurance in the private market.

But she charged that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., stopped the legislation by insisting that the insurance could be purchased only from a government program.

Indeed, Johnson adds, some in Washington want to solve the problem of the uninsured by expanding government programs. But government programs, such as Medicaid, already are overburdened and close to collapse, she says.

If the uninsured had received the two-thirds subsidy and had the ability to choose their insurance, the private market would have come up with affordable options, Johnson says.