Read this great op-ed by one of our partners, Kirk Noden of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. This op-ed originally appeared on The Cleveland Plain Dealer website.
As pundits debate the merits of the Affordable Care Act and health care applications slowly creep upward toward 7 million, there is a little known provision in the ACA that will have a profound impact on how Ohio cares for its elderly.
Through this provision, called the Balancing Incentive Payment Program (BIPP), Ohio received $169 million to dedicate to the expansion of in-home care options for our elderly and disabled.
Why does a small program like this matter? Why is promoting in-home, community-based care so critical to Ohio’s future? And how is it possible that in the days of polarized politics, legislators actually agreed about the need to address these problems? The answer is in the staggering truth of Ohio’s demographic future.
According to data from the Scripps Gerontology Center, Ohio’s population of adults age 60 or older will grow by 30 percent in less than seven years (by 2020). Ohio already has the seventh-largest 60-plus demographic in the nation. This unprecedented growth highlights a massive need for improving long-term care and making sure that it’s financially viable for the tens of thousands of aging Ohioans who will require it at some point in their lifetimes.
In the 1960s, Medicaid originally favored institutional care over home care due to the lack of support for home caregivers, but this new incentive attempts to bring the home-care program in Ohio into the 21st century, underwriting home-care services with federal funding and creating new jobs in the community.
As more and more seniors retire, we need to figure out a way to care for them in an affordable manner. According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, private long-term care insurance providers will only cover about 20 percent of Americans who need coverage. Combine this with Ohio’s senior boom in the next seven years and by the next decade, millions of seniors will be forced to confront how they’ll maintain a dignified quality of life on their limited budgets.
One way to save that money is to keep the focus on home- and community-based services. The average cost per person for nursing home care is approximately $75,000 per year, compared to $30,000 to $40,000 for in-home care. Home care also keeps our elderly in a familiar and comfortable state and lets them retain their dignity and independence. In my eight years of work with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, I’ve met thousands of seniors who have made clear how important it is to them to stay in their own homes rather than move into institutionalized care.
An influx of seniors to the home-care system equals a need for more home-care workers. Our current home-care workforce as it stands simply cannot support our nation’s needs. America is projected to need 1.6 million additional direct-care workers by 2020 — millions of care workers assisting with cooking, cleaning, medication and all aspects of daily living in order for our population to age with dignity and respect. This workforce will need benefits like paid sick days, competitive wages and career support to ensure they continue to give the highest quality of care to our elderly and invest themselves in the caregiving field.
We now have $169 million from the federal government to kick-start our strategy and lead a discussion on how people can stay in their homes as they age and receive quality, affordable support.
As we enter 2014, implementing BIPP funding should be a catalyst for the Ohio legislature and governor to create a formal Long-Term Care Commission, making Ohio a national trendsetter in addressing the needs of an aging population. Such a commission would be charged with identifying needed reforms of the long-term care system, researching program changes and resources needed to meet the state’s long-term care goals, and exploring funding options that may help support the provision of long-term care services, ensuring that seniors and those who care for them have the assets they need.
As a state, it is our responsibility to ensure that seniors both receive affordable long-term care without compromising their lifestyle and also receive skillfully trained and fairly paid caregivers. The BIPP brings us one step closer, but it is not enough. We must act together and soon.
The road to finding an affordable and effective solution will take time and dedication, but we cannot ignore the facts any longer. Long-term care costs are skyrocketing, and Ohio is on the verge of an unprecedented demographic shift. The time is right to bring together Ohio’s best minds from health care, business, social service, faith-based and community organizations to launch a unified strategy around long-term care. Furthermore, with the BIPP program ending in 2015, time is of the essence. Ohio’s fiscal health and the dignity of our citizens depend on us preparing for an Ohio that will continue to age, and we must work together to rise to the challenge for the sake of our elderly.