Eric Schubert

Eric Schubert is a vice president at Ecumen, an innovative nonprofit senior housing and services company based in Shoreview. He oversees communications, branding, public affairs and the Ecumen "Changing Aging" blog ( He writes about aging and change resulting from it in innovation, how we live, wellness, public policy and beyond.

Posts about Society

3 Emerging Benefits of the Minnesota Health Exchange That Don’t Get Talked About

Posted by: Eric Schubert Updated: May 16, 2013 - 3:14 PM



If you look at the bios of the new Minnesota Health Exchange Board members, you see common themes weaving among them.  They all appear to have plenty else going on in their lives.   They represent a diverse skill set.  And they each have taken on big responsibilities during their lives.   You don’t find such characteristics in people who want to waste time driving on a road to nowhere.  Their collective success will be Minnesota’s success.  A successful MNSure will open the door to new positives that often get lost in “sky is falling” rhetoric.  Such emerging benefits include:

1.      Better Workforce, More Innovation:   How many times have you heard a person say, “I hate my job, and I’d love to do something different, but I stay because I need health insurance.” How sad and counterproductive.  Making affordable health insurance available will remove “health insurance handcuffs,” empowering people who have desire to try another career to do that or to embark on an entrepreneurial pursuit without losing insurance coverage.  That should benefit Minnesota with more engaged workers and more start-ups that grow through entrepreneurial endeavors. (Interestingly, most entrepreneurial start-ups come from older Americans (50-64), an age band that also comprises the largest group of pre-Medicare health care spenders.

2.      AgeSURE – A Path to a Stronger Safety Net and Keeping More People from Poverty:  A goal of MNSure is to take out the complexities of purchasing health insurance with easy-to-understand online apple-to-apples comparisons and quality rankings.   Success here could move to taking complexities out of insurance for aging services that help people stay healthfully independent for as long as possible and help prevent expensive “bounce-back” visits to the emergency room.

Most people don’t purchase long-term care insurance.  Consumers often say it’s too expensive, too complex, or they fear it won’t be there when they need it.  A statewide AgeSure Exchange could eliminate those complexities and help people more easily connect to financial products that fit their needs.   Such a market would help products improve and fit needs of more people and income levels.  Improved products and a one-stop marketplace improves sales opportunities.   More people with insurance for home care, transportation assistance, and other elder services slows Medicaid spending, strengthening a safety net for those most in need, and helping strengthen state finances.

3.      Collaboration that Trumps Complexity:  MNSure is a big opportunity to stoke our state’s innovation mojo and prove Minnesotans can make things better instead of waddling in complexity and hyperpartisanship.  That will only happen if people work together.   MNSure’s success should provide a confidence jolt to the state that we can cut through complexities of other thorny areas that have major public-private consequences, such as education and poverty, and make things better for more Minnesotans.

Many people helped get the Exchange to the Legislature.  There Rep. Joe Atkins, chief author of the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange legislation, shepherded it through 73.5 hours of public hearings in 18 different legislative committees.   Many ideas by many people were exchanged on the Exchange.  Now the MNSure Board and MNSure staff continue the hard work.  With their success, MNSure will succeed, and Minnesota will show it can come together to take on 21st Century challenges rather than wallowing in complexity and gridlock.

"Own Your Future." But How?

Posted by: Eric Schubert Updated: October 19, 2012 - 5:10 PM

If you’re between 40 and 65, you recently received a letter from Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon encouraging you to "Own Your Future."  Own Your Future is a public information effort sponsored by the State of Minnesota and the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The effort encourages individuals to plan for long-term care needs now instead of waiting until a crisis occurs. Many people mistakenly believe Medicare will pay for long-term care costs. It does not. And, unfortunately, in today’s new old age marked by record longevity, many people learn this too late.
Kudos to Governor Dayton, Lt. Governor Prettner Solon and DHS Commissioner Jesson for raising this issue and bringing visibility to it. It opens an opportunity for a Phase II to provide better options for those many Minnesotans who don’t see personal savings or paying for long-term care insurance as a viable part of their fiscal plan. 
Phase II of Own Your Future is Imperative
Long-term care insurance might be the answer to preserving a safety net. But thus far only about 10% of Americans have long-term care insurance policies. Many people find the insurance complex. They have concerns if their company will come through with benefit payments years from now. And if you’re paying for a car, rent, mortgage and other expenses of daily living, long-term care insurance is going to fall pretty far down the priority list of household expenses.
Another disincentive to planning is Medicaid, called Medical Assistance in Minnesota. If you go into poverty because of Alzheimer’s, congestive heart failure or other long-term care need, you’ll qualify for Minnesota’s defacto long-term care insurance policy. It pays for about 40% of Minnesotans’ long-term care needs. But unless we all agree to massive tax hikes – or put our thinking and doing hats on to create new approaches - Medicaid as the fallback is unsustainable. 
Own Your Future highlights that paying for long-term care is an issue we have to address. Innovation in this area is essential to an individual’s and statewide community’s life quality and fiscal health.
And that’s why a Phase II of Own Your Future – a phase that provides accessible, realistic answers for varying financial capacities on “how” to own your future - is so critically important.
Putting Minnesotans’ Heads and Will Together
Following are briefs of some of the ideas that came forth from the non-partisan Citizens League on this issue. You can read the full report here. They illustrate that if we put our heads together, we can develop payment ways that are helpful and beneficial to people, not barriers.
Make Medicaid Co-Insurance: The current structure of Medicaid contains disincentives for personal responsibility. Consequently, its function as a safety-net for long-term care for the elderly poor has been distorted. Medicaid has been dubbed “a public insurance with an extremely high deductible” (i.e., virtually all of one’s assets). The Citizens League recommends that the state seek a Federal Waiver to make Medicaid a co-insurance, with eligibility for co-insurance contingent on: 1) privately purchased long-term care insurance and/or savings for long-term care; and 2) income. Co-insurance could be structured in a variety of ways. One possibility is to provide a co-pay on long-term care expenditures financed by private savings and/or private insurance. Another is to match the dollar amount of private insurance once private insurance benefits have been exhausted. This also means that we need private products that are appealing to people, which ties to the next idea:
Provide Online Marketplace: The state could transition the “Own Your Future” web site to an online website of state-endorsed insurance products/savings products for differing financial needs. This “Good Housekeeping” “Consumer Reports-Like” seal of approval – could aid Minnesotans in cutting through complexities and myths that prevent people from purchasing long-term care insurance products. If really great products exist that no one knows about – this would be an easily accessible one-stop shop for them. It also could have an review area where Minnesotans can provide their experiences on the products, why they fit in their life, etc. in real-life terms, not marketing-speak.
Tap Your Home Equity . . . Safely: The largest asset of most Minnesotans is their home. This is true notwithstanding the recent fall in home prices. People of all incomes have savings in their homes. Medicaid often exempts people's homes from the requirement that one must have no assets in order to qualify for Medicaid. Yet, it has been estimated that replacing Medicaid's home exemption with “reverse mortgages” could save Medicaid from $5 to $20 billion a year in the United States. 
A highly cost-effective potential approach for the state of Minnesota would be to develop and/or support a product that allows seniors to tap their home equity for limited purposes (e.g., health and long-term care costs, and costs that allow them to remain in their homes) under terms far more favorable than existing reverse mortgage terms. According to the League report, a simple way to reduce the risk and administrative costs would be to reduce the amount of equity that can be withdrawn, so that the ultimate home value (due to market forces or a lack of home maintenance) is of less risk.
Own Your Future is doing a valuable service in raising the issue of long-term care planning and financing. Now, the leadership and innovation opportunity before Minnesota is to provide effective ways for people to act on this new information. No state has figured this out. Minnesota can. 

Would You Support Increased Taxes to Pay for Your Alzheimer’s Care?

Posted by: Eric Schubert Updated: March 29, 2012 - 12:31 PM
Do you know how you would pay for Alzheimer’s care or other chronic care needs?  
Most Minnesotans have no idea how they’ll pay for supportive services to help with tasks most of us take for granted in our daily life, such as eating, bathing, or dressing.  Nor do they have a plan for more intensive, continual care.
In fact a majority of Minnesotans (52 percent) say have no plan for how they’ll pay for supportive services. This according to a new poll conducted by The Long-Term Care Imperative (LTCI),  a collaboration of Aging Services of Minnesota and Care Providers of Minnesota, which are membership associations of senior service organizations across the state.
As you look at the infographic below, one other thing to consider: 
In 1965, when Medicaid was created (the federal-state program that pays for most long-term care costs after people spend into poverty) Alzheimer’s Disease was a phrase largely isolated to medical journals.  Today 100,000 Minnesotans live with it. Absent a cure, by 2050, nearly a quarter million Minnesotans will have it at a cost of $20 billion according to the Preparing Minnesota for Alzheimer’s Report, prepared for the Minnesota State Legislature by the Minnesota Board on Aging.
It’s time for Minnesota to develop new ways for people to get the right services, at the right time, in the right place, rather than having to rely on a wing and prayer or impoverishing oneself.

Should the Phrase “Senior Citizen” Be Retired?

Posted by: Eric Schubert Updated: August 11, 2011 - 3:30 PM




Katy Read had an interesting story recently in the Star Tribune asking about what language we should use to refer to older people.  One thought that comes to mind is “people.” 

She writes:

"Mature" could conceivably apply to a well-behaved teenager. "Retiree" refers to a job status, not a life stage. "Old-timer" evokes a long white beard and overalls outside the general store. "Elder" sounds, to some ears, a bit artificially tribal. But tack on a "ly" and it's far worse -- in many people's minds, "elderly" might as well be a synonym for "frail."

So what the heck should we call people who are, um, you know ... old?

It's an interesting question.

A few years ago Ecumen commissioned a statewide survey of baby boomers on a variety of topics related to their future and aging.  One question tested a couple of phrases, asking which they found most appealing: senior, elder, older adult and third ager.  We didn't include "senior citizen" because it just seems dated. 

-          48% favored “senior”

-          40% favored “older adult”

-          9 % favored “elder”

-          2% favored “third ager”

-          1% said “none”

Does senior work for you, or do you have other ideas?


Michael Graves’ Designs on Target for Empowering a Massive Market

Posted by: Eric Schubert Updated: June 13, 2011 - 10:12 AM

 Several years ago at a Courage Center awards dinner, Michael Graves, renowned architect and designer of hip Target house wares, rolled to the stage in his wheelchair, looked upon the crowd and declared.

              “Welcome to the new normal.”

If you
make it to 65 – and more people than ever will - there’s a nearly 70% chance you’ll live with a disability. In 2003, Michael Graves’ legs were paralyzed by a virus. He discovered many items available to help people live
in their own home – such as a shower bench or tub rail – not only lack functionality, but are dow
nright ugly.
Why can’t elegant, functional, cool design be brought to products that empower people?
Michael Graves knows it can.   
His new Active Living Collection for Drive Medical eliminates the word “institutional,” including such offerings as an innovative folding cane in a bag, where you can carry your car keys, iPod, or other accessories; bath aids such as a bench marked by vibrant colors and built-in holders for hand-held shower heads, stock sponges and other accessories that make accessibility easier.
                 Designed to Work for the Whole Family
Graves’ sought to design products that work for the “whole family.” One person may be using it, but all have to live with it.
“It need not look like ‘medical equipment’ – it can look like a product that one would find in an upscale spa,” said Graves. That being said, the product must perform flawlessly and be competitively priced or what is the point?”
Prices are competitive with other top-line products in this category, ranging from about $30 for a backless bath seat to around $85 for one height adjustable tub rail with soft cover.

Opportunity for Target and Other Retailers 

Currently these products are largely available online at sites such as and, but they're not available at Twin
Cities-based Target. One can see however, how Graves’ new Active Living Collection could fit into Target’s and other retail stores’ offerings. As people live in their homes with physical challenges, these products are as important to everyday living as food and clothing, opening the door to a number of cross-selling opportunities.
Graves says customer feedback to his designs is very positive. The products’ functionality is essential, but he adds “customers always conclude their comments with ‘and [they] look great, too.’ ” 
Transforming Furniture Design for Stryker Medical
Graves also is partnering with Stryker Medical to create a suite of hospital room furniture that he believes transforms the patient and caregiver experience. Again, he designs from first-person perspective:
“When I spent two years in and out of eight different hospitals and three different re-hab facilities, I knew healthcare design should be our next focus,” said Graves.
"In addition to the general ugliness all around,  I struggled with the furniture, the layouts of the rooms,
poorly designed bathrooms, inaccessible fixtures, impossible to reach light switches - the list goes on and on - many designed by so-called healthcare design ‘experts,” said Graves.
"I vowed to change that.  Luckily, we made a great partnership with Stryker Medical and we're on our way to transforming the patient room experience.  In addition, we're working with a visionary developer on re-inventing ambulatory care from the building to each piece of equipment, technology and furniture that goes into it.”
Michael Graves has much more to come in a changing world.



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