Long-term care debate can't wait
There can be no "good" time for a forceful public conversation about the pressing need to pay for long-term care in Hawai'i.
Thus first lady Vicky Cayetano is sure to run into a mountain of doubts with her proposal to create a long-term care financing system in this state. Essentially, she is talking up the idea of a $10 monthly "contribution" from Island residents that would build into a long-term care fund.
Those who could not afford their own long-term care would be able to dip into this insurance fund for up to 450 days of care at $70 a day.
Now, anyone who has shopped for long-term care insurance recently will recognize that this is a bare-bones program. But for many people, it would be substantially better than what they can expect today, which is nothing.
Gov. Cayetano has said he supports his wife's efforts in principle, and wants the Legislature to take up the issue at its coming session. That's good, because it is a plain fact that the state, sooner or later, will have to face the growing problem of long-term care.
Hawai'i has one of the most rapidly aging populations in the nation. There was talk nearly a decade ago about developing a tax that would be used to build up a public long-term care insurance fund. The idea faced taxpayer resistance and never went anywhere.
That means we have lost ten years in our battle to build a safety net for our aging population. And the unhappy fact is that these are costs we cannot avoid. We can choose not to "tax" ourselves or otherwise find ways to pay for a long-term care safety net, but the need will not go away.
The frail elderly will be with us in increasing numbers and someone will have to care for them. If we build a safety net today, the money (and thus a "market") for quality, sensible long-term care will be there when the time comes.
Mrs. Cayetano has started an important conversation. It is time for policy-makers to listen.