Ritter urges Coloradans to plan for long-term care

By Lucy McFadden
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

On July 7, the West steps of the Capitol brimmed with people checking out booths with information on health-care options, grocery shopping on a budget and public transportation for metro-area seniors.

There was even musical accompaniment — a man sat strumming his mandolin and singing, “Come listen to the gov’nor talk about long term care; he says it costs a lot so we gotta be prepared. He says that in your future is the place we oughta be — by getting educated … and buying LTC (insurance that is, for long-term care, cause nobody else covers ya)!”

At the kickoff for the “Own Your Future” campaign, Gov. Bill Ritter urged his fellow Coloradans to plan for the day when they can no longer independently handle such essential everyday activities as bathing, dressing and eating. Long-term care also encompasses extended care at home, at a nursing home or at an adult day-care center.

“As your governor, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring strong, healthy futures for all Coloradans,” Ritter said as the mostly elderly crowd inched up the steps as the noonday sun encroached on their shade.

Joining the governor was Joan Henneberry, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, and Aaron Eisenach, president of the Long-Term Care Forum of Colorado.

Ritter said his office will mail Coloradans age 45 to 65 a letter that will include information on the free planning kit. This information also is available online at ownyourfuturecolorado.org, or by calling 1-866-PLAN-LTC (1-866-752-6582).

Before the governor offered details of the plan, Tammey Sullivan and her mother, Bonnie Fritz, told the assembly about the pivotal role long-term care insurance had played in the care of Fritz’s husband, who died of Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, the family had invested in long-term care insurance, enabling them to afford the 24/7 professional assistance he eventually required.

Sullivan adamantly pleaded with the audience to buy insurance and protect themselves and their families.

“It does not matter how old you are. If you are over 20, then you qualify for insurance,” said Sullivan as she addressed the crowd.

“I am pleading with you! Plan ahead for your families,” she said, clasping her mother’s hand and holding back tears.

According to information provided by the Own Your Future campaign, a collaboration of the State of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Colorado’s Medicaid program, the Division of Insurance and long-term care providers affiliated with the Long Term Care Partnership, about 70 percent of Americans eventually will need some kind of long-term care and 40 percent will need nursing home care. Of the 13 million Americans in need of long-term care today, 40 percent are age 18 to 64.

The campaign also notes that Medicare does not cover long-term care, that a semi-private room in an average nursing home in Denver costs $66,527 per year, and that Medicaid pays for long-term care only if the recipient meets the strict income and asset guidelines required to qualify.

Henneberry and Eisenach both said that planning for long-term care insurance allows people to choose the plans and settings they prefer.

“I like to think I’m a family man,” said Eisenach. “I treasure my future with my wife and kids. My family is why I have long-term care. I’m protecting my most valuable asset — my family.”

He noted that planning for long-term care can protect families from the enormous financial burdens in health costs.

Lucy@coloradostatesman.com