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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

CarePlus critical for Hawai'i

By Greg Marchildon

Greg Marchildon is AARP Hawai'i state director.

As we move further into the new millennium, long-term care will become the most pressing social policy issue for our nation and our state. We simply have not done enough to address this critical issue, and if we don't step up to the plate and begin to confront the realities of an aging nation and state, we're going to be headed for a monstrous train wreck.

Hawai'i has some real advantages compared to many other states regarding long-term care. We have grappled with this issue for a long time. Our state has displayed the courage to have an active and vigorous debate about the role of government and individuals as it pertains to how we will care for people who need long-term care.

AARP Hawai'i believes it is time to stop debating this issue and take a step forward in solving this complicated problem. Much has been made of the CarePlus proposal now working its way through the Legislature. Unfortunately, CarePlus, and by extension, long-term care, has been made into the political football of this year's session.

This is not only unfortunate, but extremely regrettable because this issue deserves a much higher level of discussion. In reality, this issue is about real people who deserve much more than the attacks and misinformation that continue to be spread around about long-term care.

According to the 2000 Census, Hawai'i has the highest life expectancy of any state in the nation. Hawai'i has the highest number of baby boomers per capita of any state in the nation.

The 2002 Census data should be sounding alarms in the minds of our policymakers. People in Hawai'i are getting older and living longer, which means we are moving closer to a time where many of our family and friends will need some form of long-term-care services.

Much of the debate and coverage about the CarePlus proposal has neglected to show what we believe is the proposal's strongest and most important element — consumer empowerment and choice. In a recent AARP survey of our members in Hawai'i, nine out of 10 of our members told us they want to live in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. CarePlus would be a first step in helping our members reach this goal.

It is essential that any movement to reform long-term care include strong provisions for individuals and families to determine how to spend resources that will meet their unique needs. It is critical to ensure that choices surrounding long-term care are driven by individual and family needs and preferences.

We need to make sure that these choices, be they assisted living, in-home care or other community-based services, are widely available and of the highest quality. CarePlus takes a big step forward to address consumer choice in the long-term-care marketplace.

We need to act now because an aging boomer generation will overwhelm our state's patchwork long-term-care system and leave tens of thousands of our family and friends unprepared for the heavy financial and emotional burden of caring for someone who needs long-term care.

Here in Hawai'i, we have a history of applying an 'ohana model when dealing with difficult issues. Over the years, Hawai'i has developed a national reputation for putting into place a strong government/community fabric that provides a meaningful safety net for our keiki and kupuna. The Prepaid Health Care Act of 1974, the A+ Program, Kupuna Care and the state's long-term-care ombudsman program are a part of Hawai'i's nationally recognized efforts to care for its citizens.

Let's not tarnish this much-deserved reputation by politicizing the long-term-care issue for partisan purposes and hackneyed sound bites.

CarePlus is not going to solve Hawai'i's looming long-term-care crisis. In fact, it's not going to even come close. What it will do is put us on the road from discussion to action. CarePlus could provide the first level of financial support to kokua our family and friends struggling to pay for long-term care. CarePlus — with its consumer choice focus — will make a real difference for real people who want to grow old and wish to age-in-place at home.