Grassley: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Dear ABILITY Readers,
Benjamin Franklin’s time-tested bits of wisdom hold relevance to
modern-day politics, life and leisure more than two centuries after his
death. A public servant, philosopher, scientist, printer and inventor,
the 18th century statesman left a legacy that continues to shape our American
way of life 229 years after he became the oldest delegate to sign the
Declaration of Independence. As a 21st century federal lawmaker working
to craft policy for the public good, I agree with Franklin’s no-nonsense
advice for life.
One famous Franklin quip arose from his efforts to prevent severe economic
loss and personal hardship created by fires ravaging Philadelphia: “An
ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” His fire-prevention
crusade also led Franklin to help found an insurance business to help
homeowners get back on their feet and avoid irreversible economic damages.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m leading an effort
in Washington to help folks mitigate risk and avert a financial meltdown
sparked by expensive long-term care services needed for chronic illness
or impaired physical or mental abilities.
As Americans lead longer, healthier lifestyles, people from all walks
of life look forward to maintaining a comfortable standard of living in
retirement. Our society is experiencing a remarkable shift in demographics
that will require a major shift by both the public and private sectors
to accommodate the needs of an aging American population. Longevity has
launched a transformation of sorts across America. Just consider the needs
and challenges facing our health care delivery system and community infrastructure,
from housing to transportation and other social services, as the enormous
baby boom generation lives for decades beyond retirement. As family units
become separated due to job transfers and relocations, aging parents increasingly
must cope without the security of knowing a loved one will be there to
tend to them.
People used to equate long-term care with the hometown nursing home. And
although nursing homes serve a great need in a community, I have yet to
meet one person who can’t wait to become a resident. In fact, for
most, institutional care is an option of last resort. Few people prefer
to trade their independence for the around-the-clock care provided by
the nation’s 17,000 nursing homes. Beyond that, nursing home care
is very expensive, costing up to $70,000 a year. Now that’s sticker
As longevity climbs, so does the diversity of long-term care choices in
America. Consider the real estate developments cropping up in communities
across the country. Planned retirement communities, assisted living facilities,
home health care agencies and other long-term care programs offer people
of varying ages and abilities the opportunity to choose the quality and
level of care that best suits their needs.
Making long-term care affordable, of course, is the real issue confronting
the public and policymakers. That’s why I’m promoting bipartisan
legislation, the Long-Term Care and Retirement Security Act of 2005, that
would offer tax incentives for people to buy long-term care insurance
policies. Our bill would give people an above-the-line tax deduction for
the cost of their long-term care insurance policies. (This special type
of deduction applies before adjusted gross income is calculated, thus
providing additional benefit to eligible taxpayers regardless of whether
they itemize or take the standard deduction.) The bill also would allow
employers to include the deduction provision in their benefits menu, along
with flexible spending accounts that let employees set aside pre-tax earnings
to pay for long-term care insurance.
Many people in their 20s and 30s may not give much thought to their retirement
budgets, much less consider what it would take to pay for long-term care.
But younger workers need to be prepared for the unexpected. The invincibility
of youth can tragically be taken away by an accident or chronic illness.
As a policymaker, I’d like to put incentives in place that create
a mindset among all individuals, regardless of age, that you can’t
afford not to buy private long-term care insurance. My plan would promote
personal responsibility, reward smart money management and restore integrity
to the public financing of long-term care.
In June, I led a two-day hearing to examine the federal-state Medicaid
program. The public health insurance system provides coverage for 53 million
Americans. Through Medicaid, taxpayers now cover roughly half the cost
of nursing home care each year. Witnesses at my hearing revealed how the
system is being used by many middle- and upper-income families to shift
the cost of nursing home care to the government. Medicaid is not an asset
protection program. Gaming the system is a disservice to the millions
of low-income families and individuals with disabilities who depend on
Medicaid for health coverage. Closing down the legal loopholes that could
bloat the system by as much as $1 to 2 billion over the next five years
would help Medicaid serve those it is intended to serve: the elderly poor,
individuals with disabilities and uninsured children in low-income families.
My long-term care legislation also seeks to recognize and reward the sacrifice
of those I call the laborers of love—family caregivers. Our society
owes a debt of gratitude to these individuals who offer their time and
tireless service to friends, neighbors and loved ones in need through
countless hours of personal care, supervision, housekeeping and meal-making.
Family caregivers help loved ones retain independence longer and live
in the comfort of their own homes. Don’t forget, this legion of
Good Samaritans is keeping countless frail elderly people and individuals
with disabilities out of expensive institutional settings. My bill would
allow individuals or their caregivers a $3,000 tax credit to defray long-term
care expenses, such as medical supplies, home nursing care and respite
Franklin’s advice remains wise. An ounce of prevention is worth
a pound of cure. More people ought to plan ahead and capitalize on financial
tools available in the private sector to make long-term care affordable,
promote smarter stewardship over retirement dollars and alleviate the
risk of impoverishment in their golden years.
Senator Chuck Grassley
continued in ABILITY Magazine subscribe
Other articles in the Fran Drescher issue include Letter From The
Editor, The Cruise Controversy, Gillian Friedman, MD; Humor: Baseball
for Lawyers; Headlines: Lung cancer, MS, Harry Potter, Hearing Loss; Toys
Theater: Russian Performers Who Are Deaf; Hearing Loss: Role Models in
Medicine; NFB-Newsline: Phone Delivery; Recipes: Spice Up Your Life; Endometrial
Cancer: What All Women Should Know; Employment: On the Road With Ticket
To Work; Sixth Annual Event: World Ability Federation; Events and Conferences..