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Aging with Respect and Dignity

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Aging with Respect and Dignity

By Senator Rick Santorum

One of the most valuable tools available to me as a United States Senator is the opportunity to travel throughout our commonwealth and meet with my constituents--which is why I've traveled to every Pennsylvania county every year since 1995. These meetings allow me to hear firsthand the issues that are most important to Pennsylvanians. Many, surely, are concerned about the War in Iraq and our homeland security, as well as things like lower taxes and high gas prices. But consistently, one of the top concerns of Pennsylvanians is healthcare. People want above almost all-else, access to quality and affordable healthcare. And understandably so--for when we, or our family members, are not healthy, most other things simply cease to matter.

In looking at the current state of America's healthcare system, there is a glaring absence-- sensible, effective long-term care (LTC) programs that encourage and enable Americans to plan for their future LTC needs. Currently, most Americans are not planning for, and are thus not prepared for, the immense financial impact of long-term care for themselves and their loved-ones. Individuals in need of long-term care--primarily seniors and those with disabilities--should have the opportunity to receive the services of their choice in the setting of their choice.

This lack of planning poses a problem that, over the next few decades, is only going to grow. Tremendous advancements in science and medicine mean that more Americans are living longer. The governors of all fifty states agree that Medicaid, which currently bears the brunt of the financial burden, cannot continue to do so. We can, and we must, do more to encourage planning and personal responsibility for long-term care to address needs, both today and in the future.

So what is the federal government's role? How can we, as legislators, help Americans ensure that their long-term care needs are taken care of? To address these questions, I recently introduced the Aging with Respect and Dignity Act.

There are a number of underlying themes of this legislation, ideas that I believe will enhance the quality of long-term care that every American who requires such care will receive. It will provide incentives for family care giving and keeping families together. It will enhance personal responsibility and less dependency on taxpayer funded government programs such as Medicaid, which will, in turn, strengthen the Medicaid program and preserve its limited resources for those in greatest need. And it will provide a financial vehicle for those unable to obtain insurance, such as individuals with preexisting conditions and disabilities, to fund long-term care services, providing greater flexibility than they currently receive under today's government programs.

Often a family member--likely a child or spouse--is the primary caregiver for a loved one. This can be in the best interest of the individual receiving care, as there is nothing quite like the love and attention of our family. But it can also be extremely hard on the caregiver. My legislation includes incentives to plan for and fund options such as respite, home-health and adult daycare, which allow families to give family caregivers the support they need.

There are four main provisions that will accomplish my legislation's goals of addressing both current and future long-term care needs. First, it would expand current rules, permitting employers to offer long-term care insurance to employees to be purchased with pre-tax dollars. The Aging with Respect and Dignity Act would enhance healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA) rules, allowing funds to be used for a broad range of LTC services such as home-health, adult daycare, and respite care for family members. The benefits of this provision could be enormous--for example, employed individuals covered by FSAs could use the funds to pay for services for a family member while they remain at work, allowing them to remain in the workforce and still provide the family member with the care that best suits their needs.

The bill would also create savings accounts specifically for long-term care needs. Many individuals are uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions, while others are reluctant to purchase long-term care insurance. Similar to Health Savings Accounts, this money would go in pre-tax, would grow tax-deferred, and could be taken out tax-free. Additionally, unused funds in the accounts could be rolled-over into the same type of account for a loved one.

Finally, we would create life care annuities. One of the most significant reasons that individuals do not purchase long-term care insurance is they are hesitant to spend large amounts of money on something that they may never need. By creating life care annuities, which would combine the features of an annuity and long-term care insurance, participants would receive a steady income that would increase significantly in the event of a disability or serious illness. Both of these tools are underutilized--by combining them, we will make them more affordable and hopefully more common.

This bill is aptly named--we need to do a better job of ensuring that our friends and family are able to age with the respect and dignity they deserve. Long-term care, whenever it is required, is a trying time for all involved, but the peace of mind that comes with financial security surely eases the emotional burden on the patient and their family. Getting this bill through Congress is at the top of my priority list this year. As your United States Senator, I simply cannot allow the long-term care needs of our citizens to be ignored any longer.

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