suozzi
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) as she arrives for her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Milette Millington

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) on Thursday, July 1, introduced federal legislation that addresses financing of long-term care for elderly Americans.

The bill, dubbed the Well-Being Insurance for Seniors to be at Home (WISH) Act, comes as America’s aging population is skyrocketing

Every day, roughly 10,000 Americans turn 65, and by 2050, the population over 65 will almost double and the population over 85 will triple. At the same time, the number of family members available to care for these aging Americans is decreasing because families are smaller and more spread out than they used to be.

“We have a storm coming, with the number of disabled elders expected to double in the coming years. Fewer family caregivers are available for these aging Americans and the market for long-term care insurance is not currently sufficient to address these demographic challenges,” said Suozzi.

Specifically, the legislation would create a public-private partnership to provide long-term care insurance for older Americans so they can age at home if they wish instead of needing to spend down their life savings and enter Medicaid-funded nursing homes.

In order to do this, the bill would create a new federal Long-Term Care Insurance Trust Fund that would pay for the “catastrophic” period of long-term care for those who need many years of it. To pay for this federal trust fund, workers and their employers would each pay 0.3% of workers wages in a social insurance tax.

Additionally, the measure would enable private insurance companies to offer affordable coverage plans for elderly Americans’ initial years of potential disability.

Economic and health care experts commended Suozzi for proposing the bill, and acknowledged its importance, now and in the near future.

“The nation’s long-term care system is broken. The WISH Act’s new spending is paid for with a payroll tax, and may even reduce deficits by lifting some of the burden of long-term care costs currently imposed on the Medicaid program,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“It would help revive the private long-term care insurance industry and make policies more affordable, thus protecting the savings of millions of hard-working Americans, in a fiscally responsible way,” said Stuart Butler, Senior Fellow of Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, pointed out the fact that many Americans will need more help than what their families can provide.

“This legislation recognizes a simple reality: we’re all growing older. Each of us, if we’re lucky, will live well into our eighth or ninth decade of life. It’s time for our policymakers to recognize these realities, and provide critical, long overdue support,” Sloan said.

Marc Cohen, co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center at the University of Massachusetts- Boston, called the bill is an American approach for dealing with the issue of financing long-term services and support for the growing number of Americans in the elderly population.

“This innovative and consequential program represents a great stride forward in making aging in place an attainable reality for all,” Cohen said.

Suozzi recalled that all four of his grandparents lived in his house when he was growing up with his mother, a former operating room nurse, providing the bulk of the caregiving.

“Both of my parents passed away a few years ago. My mom was 93 and my dad was 95. Fortunately, both were able to age comfortably at home with the assistance of home health aides,” Suozzi said. “The WISH Act would save the Medicaid program and millions of Americans from financial ruin, would allow people to age at home with dignity, and would create millions of good-paying, middle-class jobs in the home health care industry.”

This story first appeared on PoliticsNY.com.

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