I moderated two interesting panels today at a long-term care conference sponsored by Genworth, the big insurance company. The first panel included author and family caregiving expert Virginia MorrisNational Family Caregivers Association president Suzanne Mintz, and Ancil Alexander, a home health aide who visits clients in the South Bronx. Virginia talked about the desperate need caregivers have for information, Suzanne discussed the needs paid and family caregivers share, and Ancil gave a powerful description of just how hard it is to care for clients with multiple chronic diseases, including dementia. Some of the stories Ancil told reminded me of what the families I met in Caring for Our Parents went through.

The second panel was made up of congressional staffers, all of whom work for lawmakers who have sponsored long-term care legislation that Congress is considering as part of broader health reform. The aides included Connie Garner of the Senate Health Committee, who worked for the late Ted Kennedy for many years on a plan for national long-term care insurance (the CLASS Act); Alison Bonebrake, whose boss, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), is sponsoring a bill to make it easier for Medicaid beneficiaries to receive home care; Anne Montgomery, senior policy adviser to the Senate Aging Committee; and others. 

As readers of this blog now, long-term care is very much on the bubble in the debate over health reform. With changes in the overall health system so controversial, many lawmakers have been reluctant to confront long-term care as well. Financing issues such as the CLASS Act; Medicaid reforms such as Kerry’s; and measures to encourage doctors, nurses, aides, and others to take jobs caring for the frail elderly are all in the mix. Each addresses a critical problem for the 10 million Americans who need long-term care and the 40 million family members and friends who help them. But all must overcome a wall of indifference if they are to become law.

In that environment, I asked each of the Hill staffers whether it is better to address long-term care this year as part of health reform, or to wait for another year or two and consider these issues separately. Every one of the six staffers on the panel said the same thing: Do it now. Don’t wait. Get as much long-term care reform as possible today.

It sounded like a pretty good message to me.