One of the greatest challenges elderly people may face is the need for long-term care, which includes a wide array of health care and supportive services that one needs due to limited functional capacity or a chronic health care condition. This is especially true for those without an able-bodied partner or adult child who is able to provide regular care. Older women are more likely to have long-term care needs than men, and most women will end their years as an unmarried woman, meaning many without adult children or other relatives to provide care will need to hire professional caregivers, particularly if they need additional supports to stay in their home.
The costs of long-term care can double or even triple an elder’s overall expenses, which is a considerable barrier to care for unmarried women, who have lower-income and higher-poverty rates than married women. While a large majority of Americans will need long-term care, few people are insured against the cost. Further, Medicare has limited coverage for these services, exposing these women to high out-of-pocket costs. To make matters worse, there is currently a caregiver shortage largely because the jobs pay poorly. This makes access to care even more difficult.
A provision of the pending health care reform bills on the both the House and Senate side would implement the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS Act. The act would establish a public insurance program for long-term services and supports. Participants would be able to purchase nonmedical services and supports necessary to remain in their community. The program would be financed by voluntary premium payments through payroll deductions, have a five-year vesting period, and provide at least $50 per day to purchase relevant services in their communities.
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