By Cyril Tuohy
November’s midterm elections have voters selecting governors in 36 states, 35 U.S. Senators and 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. This will guarantee that there are new faces and changes surrounding long-term care, a legislative long-term care expert said.
In the Senate, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., announced they will not stand for re-election.
Both lawmakers, having served for decades, are knowledgeable about the ins and outs of long-term care, said Sam Morgante, vice president of government relations for Genworth and the only full-time long-term care lobbyist in Washington.
Even with the losses, the long-term care industry benefited by the appointment of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the new chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Morgante said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate who has expertise on aging and long-term care issues, is up for re-election.
Another lawmaker, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., a former long-term care insurance agent, is a “sleeper” on LTC issues, Morgante said.
In the House, the “two best advocates,” of long-term care include Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., R-La., and Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, he said.
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., also a former LTCi agent, is the “sleeper,” on the House side, Morgante said.
“He said selling LTCi ought to be a prerequisite to being a member of Congress and so we’ve got some people who understand long-term care,” said Morgante, recalling a brief meeting with the Illinois lawmaker.
If and when lawmakers who are knowledgeable about the long-term care industry decide they are going to take up LTCi issues, it will be in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections on Nov. 4.
For the moment, initiatives surrounding long-term care reform have stalled because it’s an election year, said Morgante.
“Federal government efforts on long-term care are reduced to ltc.gov, that’s it,” Morgante said.
Morgante delivered his remarks during the LTC CEO Forum, one of the sessions presented at the annual conference of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.
The federal Commission on Long-Term Care, which met last year to explore affordable solutions to long-term care coverage, reignited discussion around reform. Despite testimony from many of the nation’s foremost experts on long-term care, the bipartisan commission sidestepped the issue of financing long-term care.
The commission’s final report, submitted to Congress in September, remains on the shelf.
Off Capitol Hill, meanwhile, bipartisan policy think tanks and actuaries are hard at work on long-term care financing. “The adults are back in the room,” Morgante said.
Despite the loss of momentum on legislative matters concerning long-term care, 2015 should bring new work on tax and entitlement reform, he added.
Tax qualified LTCi created by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is connected to the Internal Revenue Code, and falls under the jurisdiction of the House Ways and Means Committee. How the tax code works with return of premium and benefit triggers in LTCi would be explored by Ways and Means, he said.
While entitlement reform around the solvency of Medicare and Medicaid have been “kicked down the road,” that too will have to be addressed — eventually — although it’s hard to say exactly when.
Could 2016 be the year that lawmakers take on long-term care reform with any seriousness? Perhaps. There’s another election — a presidential election, remember — in which the nation might get its first female president: Hilary Clinton.
Clinton mentioned long-term care in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president and tried to pass health reform.
“The problem we confront today is different than when I joined the industry,” Morgante said. “When I joined, the problem was about our parents. Today it is about us. If we don't solve this issue, our kids are not going to be happy.”
But is that really the problem? Or is it that the nation has put off the issue by kicking the proverbial can down the road? Elections take place regularly. It’s not as if they came out of the blue and disrupted the agenda.
Blaming election cycles is a convenient scapegoat for not having a nationwide plan to address long-term care needs. Indeed, critics of long-term care policy say the nation has never had a long-term care master plan.
Instead of coming up with one, lawmakers have repeatedly punted long-term care issues into the future leaving long-term care to languish through a patchwork of government and private programs. Now the future is here and it’s brought 87 million baby boomers along with it. Those seniors will need long-term care sooner or later.
“In 1965, if we knew what we know today about this industry, we would have approached it differently,” Morgante said.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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