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The Hill: Time has come to address the challenges of long-term care

As Congress embarks on a new venture to create a bipartisan budget that would strengthen the economic security of families and reduce the deficit without shortchanging our future, it’s our hope that both parties will also work together to find viable ways to help families pay for long-term care.

With the aging of the baby boomers, our country finds itself in the midst of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in our history. And, as the aging population grows, so too will the long-term-care needs of many in our society.

Providing assistance to family members who can no longer care for themselves can be taxing for all involved.

In fact, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing last month to examine a myriad of challenges facing seniors today, and found many were unprepared.

So, later this year, we’re going to hold another hearing to see what we can do to help. Some of the things we’re going to look at include the possibility of expanding Medicare to cover long-term care, and other various ways to possibly make private long-term care coverage more affordable for those who need it.

Currently, about 12 million Americans have long-term-care needs — a number that’s rising rapidly. While most receive care from family and friends, an increasing number depend on costly in-home care or end up in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, where the median annual costs range from $40,000 to $80,000, respectively.

Most middle-class families in this country simply can’t afford the expense of providing long-term care for a loved one. And there are few viable options available to help them pay for the services they would need. Medicare and most traditional health insurance plans don’t cover long-term-care expenses. And while private long-term-care insurance is available, most people don’t have it because they see long-term care as something they’ll never need.

In fact, according to a recent study from the SCAN Foundation, most Americans have done little or nothing to prepare for their future long-term-care needs. This is despite research that shows that 70 percent of people 65 or older will eventually need some form of assistance.

Clearly, our current system of providing long-term care is unsustainable. And, that’s why we shouldn’t wait much longer to address it.

Nelson is the senior senator from Florida, serving since 2001. Baldwin is the junior senator from Wisconsin, in her first year. Nelson is the chairman and Baldwin a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.