LONG-TERM CARE: Congress, Advocates Praise Proposal
President Clinton's proposed tax credit for long-term care has Republicans and Democrats scrambling to dominate the popular issue, while many advocacy groups for the elderly have pledged to aggressively pursue its passage and called for broader reform. The Washington Post reports that "members of both parties interpreted the jockeying for credit as a harbinger of its eventual success on Capitol Hill" (Goldstein, 1/5). Republicans lined up to praise Clinton's proposal. Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said, "This GOP initiative the president has adopted can make a difference" (AP/Washington Times, 1/5). Senate Finance Chair William Roth (R-DE) added, "This is an idea that has bipartisan support" (Page, USA Today, 1/5). A spokesperson for Roth, however, warned that "Clinton's idea will quickly run into trouble in Congress if it is paid for with tax increases" (CongressDaily, 1/4). Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, "applauded Clinton and said he plans to introduce two bills this year to make long-term care more affordable" (Layton, Bergen Record, 1/5).
Still A Way To Go
The proposal's broad support in Congress contrasted with a more guarded response from state officials, many of whom remain concerned that the program does not address the growing burden of long-term care on Medicaid or the needs of people who are too poor to benefit from a tax credit. LaRhae Knatterud, a policy analyst for Minnesota's Department of Human Services, said, "[T]he program would be most effective, most helpful, if it also targets people who are most at risk of falling into the public safety net." George Hoffman, also of the state's human services department, added, "[T]his program probably would have almost a negligible impact on state spending. It's just not targeted enough" (Wolfe, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1/5). The Bergen Record reports that some caregivers called the proposed $1,000 credit "a pittance," noting that the cost of home care for a disabled person can easily top $40,000 annually. One women who pays for care for her husband at home called it "chicken feed," and a man caring for both his parents noted that it "wouldn't cover two weeks of care" (1/5). As to the response from the White House regarding criticism of the plan, PBS' Susan Dentzler reported that an administration official said, "Our proposals are always going to be too big for some people and too small for many others" ("NewsHour," PBS, 1/4).
From The Editorial Page
An editorial from the Macon Telegraph argued "the burden of caring for a disabled or infirm parent or other relative knows no ideology," and called on Republicans to "put aside ... partisan pettiness and either go along with the White House proposal or improve upon it" (1/5). An editorial in USA Today concludes: "If budget priorities inevitably muffle cries for deeper reform now, they won't as the baby boom ages. With the Clinton plan as a start point, let the howling begin" (1/5). Calling Clinton's proposal "modest," a Washington Post editorial argues it is "more palliative than structural" and that "there would still be a serious mismatch nationally between need and aid." Ultimately, however, the Post concludes that "it would help -- not least to underscore the seriousness of the problem" (1/5).
Advocacy groups for the elderly immediately endorsed the long- term care initiative, though several argued it will not adequately address the needs of an aging population. The American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging "applauds" the measure, but called for "broader reforms" (AAHSA release, 1/4). Stephen McConnell, senior vice president of the Alzheimer's Association, said his organization "will work aggressively with the President and Congress to see these proposals enacted into law this year" (Alzheimer's Association release, 1/4). The National Association for Home Care and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare also endorsed Clinton's initiative and pledged to work toward its passage (NAHC and NCPSSM releases, 1/4). Chip Kahn, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, called on employers to "take a cue from the federal government and start offering private long-term care insurance as part of employee benefit packages." The HIAA also called on Congress to "provide all Americans with additional tax-enhancements for purchasing private long-term care insurance," such as making premiums fully tax deductible or allowing Americans to pay premiums from IRA accounts or cafeteria plans (HIAA release, 1/4). The Washington Post reports that the support for the program also "came from constituencies such as nursing homes that would not benefit from most of its provisions but hope it will stimulate a broader discussion of financing long-term care." Paul Willging, president of the American Health Care Association, said, "I think there's going to be a beneficial ripple effect across the board." John Rother, chief lobbyist for the American Association of Retired Persons, said, "Who can oppose giving help to families caring for seriously disabled loved ones? You'd really be a Grinch if you weren't going to support it" (Post, 1/5).
For the Feds
Mike Causey's "Federal Diary" in today's Washington Post outlines the long-term care proposal developed by the Office of Personnel Management, which would administer the program for federal employees and retirees. "Premiums would be withheld from employee paychecks or retiree annuity checks," and "would be based on age at the time of enrollment." The OPM would ensure that participating plans "maintain funds necessary to pay benefits" and are "licensed in every state" (Causey, 1/5). Click Transcript of Clinton Remarks or White House Fact Sheet for more details.