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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2002

Lack of creativity must not kill care

A bill to tax Hawai'i residents a modest $10 a month to create a state long-term-care insurance fund appears to be in jeopardy because people can't figure out how to collect the money from retirees and others who don't work.

Now, even in an election year, when lawmakers typically develop allergies to tax levies, there's got to be a way to solve this quandary. Many of us stand to benefit from such a fund, and even if we ourselves don't, our families and future generations will.

Under the CarePlus plan, any contributor can get up to a year of care at $70 a day. Granted, that's not a whole lot, but it's better than nothing. Neither private insurance nor Medicaid goes far enough in providing for the high cost of nursing homes, assisted living and in-home care. We need a better safety net, particularly given Hawai'i's rapidly graying population. And that means paying today so that a decade from now, we'll have some money in the pot.

So how can the state cast as wide a net as possible to get all residents from ages 25 to 98 to contribute? In the case of retirees or the jobless, the state could collect monthly, quarterly or annual payments via income tax returns or public assistance. Social Security is federal money, so it's unlikely the state could deduct a monthly $10 from that fund.

Of course, we demand that any long-term-care fund be used for just that, and not to bail out the state during a budget crisis, as has been proposed for the Hurricane Relief Fund. Ultimately, though, the need for long-term-care insurance has been neglected for too long. Lawmakers should heed the warning of Bob Ogawa, president of the Hawai'i Long Term Care Association, who says: "While it may be true that the devil is in the details, details can also sometimes bedevil us into inaction." This issue deserves commitment and creativity.