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7 in 10 will need long-term care, ready or not

By Carrie Teegardin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (MCT)

Published: Friday, Dec. 6 2013 9:13 a.m. MST

For many people who lived through World War II and the Depression and never seriously considered long-term care insurance, it’s a shock to see their estates decimated when they were sure they would at least pass on the value of their family home to their kids.

It’s important, Howell said, that more families understand this reality.

“Unfortunately, all too often, society is focused on things like pop culture rather than how we care for the Greatest Generation and there is such a lack of understanding of how it is funded,” Howell said.

Harry Baron epitomizes much of his generation’s shared story. He grew up in New York and saw action in World War II while serving in the Navy. Claire wore a flowing white wedding dress and he wore his Navy uniform when they married in 1946. They migrated South and spent their lives raising three children and working together to make a living, for years at Harry Baron’s Deli at Phipps.

At 88, Baron isn’t interested in slowing down. He still holds down a part-time job in sales and has no plans to retire. Always a star athlete, he still plays tennis. He spends hours every day with Claire. That’s the way it’s always been. “Claire wants me here and if she wants me here, I’ll be here,” he said.

Since Claire’s move, Baron has also found a new mission: educating anyone he sees about long-term care financing. He didn’t think about it much until it happened to him, he said. Now, he wants people to know how the system works, and Harry Baron is not a shy man.

“I think I have been put on this earth now as a one-man emissary from the guy upstairs — tell people what you are going through, because you can probably help them,” Baron said.

He wants people to understand that Medicare doesn’t cover the kind of care his wife needs and he also wants people to understand what qualifying for Medicaid entails. Baron said he relies mostly on a military pension and both his and Claire’s Social Security checks to pay for her care. He knows he’s fortunate that he can come up with the money, but he knows not everyone is in that position.

“If you’re on Medicaid, you don’t have anything left,” he said. “It’s sad.” He thinks the average person needs to consider long-term care insurance. He also thinks it might make sense for the government to expand Medicare or another program so that workers could contribute part of every paycheck to cover care down the road.

Baron isn’t peddling a particular solution, but he wants our nation to seriously contemplate the problem and he would even like to testify on the issue before Congress. He thinks his story could help policymakers understand how important the issue is.

Some influential voices agree with Baron. This month, Tom Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, and Tommy Thompson, secretary of health and human services in the second Bush administration, publicly urged the nation to address the problem. They pledged to form a bipartisan group to seek solutions.

Part of the process will be helping the public understand the issue.

“There is a lack of planning for retirement in general,” said Kathy Floyd, state legislative director for AARP. “When people think about that, they think in terms of ‘How much money am I going to need to live?’ and they think about food and shelter — even medical. But the component that is missing there is the support services you most likely will need as you age. The way our society is set up it’s either family and some friends (providing care), or it’s impoverishment and on Medicaid.”

An AARP study found that fewer people will be able to turn to family members for care in the future. In 2010, there were 7.2 potential caregivers between 45 and 64 for every person age 80 and over. That will drop to just 4.1 available caregivers in 20 years, the report found.

Just as families convene when a crisis hits to study the options and confront the costs, state and federal officials have also been huddling on this issue.

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