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Life Health > Long-Term Care Planning

Caregiver asks for Medicare chronic care benefit

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The wife of a man who has had multiple sclerosis for 39 years said she thinks the government should do more both for people who need long-term care (LTC) and for family caregivers.

Suzanne Mintz, the co-founder and former president of the National Family Caregivers Association, talked about health insurance and Medicare Tuesday during a meeting of the federal Commission on Long-Term Care.

The commission spent most of the meeting talking about LTC delivery and workforce issues.

Mintz touched on insurance during a presentation on the role of relatives and friends in providing LTC services.

LTC services are expensive, Mintz said.

“Private LTC insurance has not proved to be a highly successful means of covering the costs for most of the population,” Mintz added.

Mintz said one commonly proposed alternative — providing an income tax credit for family caregivers — could be complicated and expensive, and still require caregivers to fund care out of their own pockets.

Another alternative would be to add a chronic care benefit to Medicare, to cover part of the cost of the products and services used by caregiving families, Mintz said.

The benefit could cover non-medical home care, accessibility safety items, and supplies for handling incontinence, Mintz said.

“Ironically, Medicare will pay to fix someone’s broken hip if they fall in the bath, but not the means to prevent the fall,” Mintz said.

Mintz suggested that policymakers find a way to look at a patient who needs LTC services and a family caregiver as a “dyad,” then measure the effects of investing in the health of the caregiver.

Spending money on keeping the caregiver healthy might be a cheap way to extend the length of time the caregiver can keep the care recipient out of an institution, Mintz said.

Congress set up the LTC Commission earlier this year, when it killed the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, a voluntary LTC benefits program. The commission is supposed to come up with proposals for improving the U.S. LTC and LTC financing systems by this fall.

The commission looked at public and private LTC benefits programs at a meeting earlier this month.

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