The first round of discussion and presentations at the Senate Special Committee on Aging was predictably void of any real knowledge about the subject of long-term care and resulted in no consensus on what might be a solution to the problem of an inevitable “long-term care crisis”. The hearing started with some casual banter about the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP) and the fact that while all federal employees, including senators and representatives, are eligible for the program, few have actually signed up.
John O’Brien, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the manager of the FLTCIP, was one of the first witnesses. He proudly announced that sales of the FLTCIP were “up 20%” year over last and that the total number of federal employees in the program stood at “270,000”. He submitted the FLTCIP brochure into the discussion and admitted that he hadn’t signed up for the program yet, saying, “I keep on thinking I’ll find a moment when I want to do that.”
Later, O’Brien admitted that he could probably help FLTCIP enrollment numbers if he were to enroll. “You can sign up any time,” O’Brien said. “You can do it in the hearing.”
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., talked about his personal feelings about the FLTCIP brochure toward the end of the hearing. Udall, who was born in 1950, expressed concerns about a possible growing lack of competition in the private LTCI market, and strategies that could be used to get baby boomers to think about LTC planning and buying LTCi. Senator Udall has also not yet purchased coverage.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office (CBO) director, testified that getting voluntary employer programs like the FLTCIP to get potential participants sign up may be important to making the private LTCI market more sustainable. Creating the broadest possible risk pool is always an issue in individual insurance markets, and, for private LTCI, “this is a very thin individual market at the moment,” Holtz-Eakin said. He did not statistically define “thin”. He suggested finding ways to encourage businesses to include coverage in their benefit packages, adding new tax subsidies, and perhaps making enrollment automatic.
During the Senate Committee hearing, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) warned that federal and state long-term care financing is “a major train wreck” and “heading for a national crisis.” Corker, the senior Republican on the Senate Aging Committee, added that he was very worried about the viability of private long-term care insurance, but then stated, “there is no doubt [that] there is a public sector role” in the future of financing long-term care supports and services. He also admitted that he hadn’t purchased long-term care insurance and that he “may not”.
Others that testified were Judy Feder, Phd., Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University, Loren Colman, Assistant Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Service, and Bruce Chernoff, President and CEO of the SCAN Foundation in Long Beach, CA. Most of their testimony centered on ways for the government to shift the burgeoning long-term care costs away from Medicaid (Medical) and to other government agencies, primarily Medicare. All admitted that such a move would be far from ideal.
The next round of testimony to the committee is supposed to include people who are actively involved in providing long-term care services and possibly one or two individuals familiar with long-term care insurance policies, pricing and claims. (Perhaps one of them can define just how “thin” the individual market really is.)