If you are a Minnesotan between the ages of 40 and 65, chances are good that you'll soon find a letter from Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner-Solon in your mailbox.
Please plan now for your future need for long-term care, the letter asks. It advises that you can contact the new state/federal Own Your Future support service for information and advice about how to proceed. (Or call the state's Senior Linkage phone line, 1-800-333-2433.)
You may find it odd that the state's chief executive would deem this message important enough to warrant a mailing to 1 million households. If you do, you may not realize that it's crucial to the state's future financial health to persuade more older Minnesotans to take charge of their own.
Minnesota's senior population has been exploding by the day since 2011 as the huge baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, reaches age 65. By 2030, the share of the state's population older than 65 will top 20 percent, up from about 13 percent today.
Today's 65-year-olds have a 70 percent chance of someday needing long-term care -- that is, regular help with cleaning, bathing, eating and other daily tasks. In 2005, the share of Minnesota baby boomers deemed financially unprepared to shoulder the cost of such care was 30 percent. Their ranks have likely grown since then.
Add to those trend lines the fact that Minnesota has long been a state with one of the nation's longest life expectancies, and the components are present for deepening money trouble for state government. Everything else state government does -- education, public safety, civil justice and more -- appears likely to suffer as Minnesota strives to provide decent care for a swelling population of frail indigents.
Fortunately, this is a crisis that Minnesotans can see coming and can avert by acting in their own best interests. In this matter, individual self-interest and the state's interest nicely coincide.
So does the nation's interest. Medicaid, which pays for long-term care for the indigent elderly, is 50 percent federally funded. That's why the federal government has supplied seed money for Own Your Future and similar programs promoting individual long-term-care financing in 26 other states. It supplied $800,000 for Dayton's mailing. No new state money is being spent on the program.
The public information and counseling service unveiled at a Capitol briefing Tuesday is the first of a three-phase program, Prettner-Solon said. Own Your Future's Phase II can't come soon enough. It aims to develop new, lower-cost insurance products to make personal financing of long-term care more affordable.
The high cost of today's long-term-care insurance is a major impediment to middle-class Minnesotans heeding the advice contained in Dayton's letter. Perversely, many of those who can comfortably afford long-term-care insurance today also are wealthy enough to self-finance long-term-care needs as they arise, without insurance. New products should be tailored to people who are not wealthy enough to self-fund their care but who still want to protect their assets.
Phase III is also much-needed. It aims to reform Medicaid "to better align with and encourage private payment for long-term care." In a nutshell, today's Medicaid invites middle-income seniors to drain their assets and let the government take over when care needs arise. A better design would use Medicaid as a matching program to supplement one's own long-term-care insurance.
An advisory group of 30 Minnesotans steeped in long-term-care expertise is at work on Phases II and III, under the leadership of Prettner-Solon and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. While their topic is labeled "long term," their project is increasingly urgent -- and so is Minnesotans' response.
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