Build a Master Plan for Long Term Care

We live in a political world today where indecision and inaction echo within the halls of Congress and State Capitols across America. The biggest risks to our financial security in retirement, health care expenses and long-term care costs, continue to be ignored by elected officials and those who seek to replace them.

Policymakers fail to grasp that 70 percent of Californians over the age of 65 will need some form of long-term care and support services. Complicating this will be the fact that the wave of aging seniors will have insufficient savings to pay for health care and caregiver services, so the children of aging parents will continue to be financially constrained in helping their parents. Further, an increasing strain of state and federal budgets will limit the ability to help all aging Californians and their families.

Two important facts compound the crisis: a long-term care model that was created decades ago that does not reflect a drastically changed population, and insufficient preparation and planning to meet the needs of baby boomers’ anticipated needs as they continue to grow older.

For many families, the long-term care roller coaster ride starts with a phone call, often in the middle of the night, with a voice saying, “I’m calling about your father.” And for most, they won’t know if dad is financially prepared for this new phase of his life, or if they will now pick up the tab for the array of services he will need to remain in his home for as long as possible. And if he needs more care than can be provided at home, the financial burden to the family is significant, eating into savings for their own retirement costs, thereby ensuring the next generation will face aging with no savings as well.

In the end, children of aging parents or an aging spouse exhaust their financial resources. There is no long-term care policy. It was talked about but was too expensive at age 68. When it comes to preparing for the health necessities of old age – ensuring healthy, affordable independence for seniors – we are failing.

In California, we have a beacon of hope for a brighter future as a result of the vision and leadership of Gary West and Mary West, founders of the West Health Foundation in San Diego.. Joined by Bruce Chernof and The SCAN Foundation, Mr. West recently issued a call to action with a nonpartisan, public awareness and education campaign We Stand with Seniors… Will You?

The campaign’s goal is to educate the gubernatorial candidates and state lawmakers about the impending crisis, and to prod them to develop a master plan for aging with dignity.

Recently, the campaign commissioned a statewide voter survey to understand voters’ sentiment on critical senior issues. Two important data points emerged:

Sixty-four percent of voters expressed their anxiety surrounding the state’s lack of action underscoring the fact that the state is failing older voters; and An overwhelming eighty-six percent of voter’s value programs that promote and provide community-based care to aid elderly families and children of aging parents.

Someone should thank Gary and Mary West for having the foresight to gather this information, and to encourage elected officials and those running for office to do something, anything.

America is swiftly approaching critical mass in our long-term home and healthcare sector. Almost 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day – more than doubling the number of retirees who will require long-term care by 2050.

The long-term care crisis is compounded by the singular focus of Congress and many state legislatures on the uninsured, and in maintaining Obama Care. This perpetuates the long-term care crisis. With elected officials wearing blinders, it is time for a California strategy: Take the preliminary information gathered by the Gary and Mary West Health Foundation and use it as the basis for building a master plan for aging – a California healthcare and long-term care roadmap.

Long-term care is America’s single largest healthcare crisis. It has and will continue to bankrupt middle-class families unless there is a national solution or at least a California strategy. The costs of ignoring America’s long-term care catastrophe are not going to shrink just because elected officials shirk their duty.

By 2030, nearly one-fifth of our population will be over the age of 65 and 70 percent of them will require some form of long-term care. Without a viable infrastructure for providing senior independence, there will continue to be a large portion of seniors who must rely on already over-stretched family members for long-term care, putting into peril the next

There is no greater challenge facing America, no greater opportunity confronting Congress and no greater need than to have the two California Gubernatorial candidates debate the future of aging and long-term care in California.

The need is great. The time for leadership is now.