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A Giant Step Forward for the Life Course

mgullettes Icon Posted by Margaret Morganroth Gullette

July 24th, 2009

The President’s plan to offer long-term health insurance is a flawed but important step forward to solving a huge social problem. This is not just a Boomers’ problem.
More people suffer from chronic illness than in the past–both people under sixty-five (think of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease) and people over that age. People–especially women–now anticipate longer life and greater debility than their parents’ generation suffered. They are terrified of living long with memory loss.
People have a strong preference for being cared for at home rather than in institutions if at all possible. They want to hire their own aides, sometimes family members, rather than paying agency overheads. Family members who are doing unpaid caring for others–80% of them women–need respite that this plan might provide. Their hardships– and the need for long-term health care insurance that is not just for the rich– are barely recognized in the mainstream. So far so good in theory.
As described in a brief Boston Globe article, however, the projected plan has some forseeable problems. It will not cover anyone until it has been in effect five years. It will not cover those who are already retired. It will not cover people who have not worked (who have been unemployed, say, whether for disability or recession) for at least three years of the five. It may not cover many of those who need most help.
Some people might prefer improving this plan to filling in the “donut hole”– if that were to be the choice.
But at least the plan puts the President and Congress on record as saying that long-term health care is a crying national need. Can we go hand in hand, we Americans, through the whole stretch of the way? That would be a giant step forward for the life course.

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