As noted in my last post, the CLASS Act -- a provision of the Obama health care law that included modest long-term care benefits (not exceeding $75 per day) for those willing to pay the premiums -- has been scrapped as financially unsustainable. The fact that has gone largely unspoken, however, is that their is money available to cover a substantial portion of long-term care expenses. As former New York Times reporter Jane Gross points out recently in this excellent column, it's not that we lack the funds to cover a substantial portion of long-term care costs; rather, Medicare spends too much on the wrong type of care.
As but one example supporting her argument, Gross points out that Medicare will cover the costs for a hip replacement for a frail senior citizen who will likely require long-term care with our without the procedure. If the senior ends up in a long-term care facility, however, Medicare will at most cover a portion of the cost for 100 days' of rehabilitation. Once Medicare stops paying the tab, if the senior is already of limited means -- or becomes impoverished as a result of an asset spend down -- then taxpayers, through the Medicaid program, will be on the hook for the senior's long-term care costs for the rest of her life.
Why, you may ask, does it matter whether Medicare or Medicaid covers the cost of care -- both of federal programs, right? As Gross points out, however, Medicare is supported by payroll taxes and thus at least has a significant element of being a self-funded program. Medicaid, in contrast, is essentially a pure "welfare" program that is completely taxpayer supported.
The solution, Gross argues, is to have a serious national conversation about the reallocation of our precious health care dollars away from pointless and wasteful procedures (hip replacements for Alzheimer's patients) and towards the costs of custodial long-term care that is increasingly bankrupting our seniors. Of course such a conversation will inevitably lead to the "R" word -- that is a discussion of the rationing of health care services. I am continually amazed that conservatives who complain about runaway government spending will decry rationing of health care -- even raising the phony spectre of "death panels" -- and seem unwilling to have a serious conversation about the irrational nature of spending on health care in this country.