South Bend, Indiana Mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg on Monday released a detailed, 19-page proposal to make long-term care for seniors more affordable and accessible, and allow retirees to maintain their economic independence.
The centerpiece of Buttigieg’s plan is a benefit program, “Long Term Care America,” that would provide eligible seniors — those age 65 and older who require assistance with two or more daily activities — with up to $90 per day to be used to cover costs for home health care services, senior housing or skilled nursing facilities.
The plan, “Dignity & Security in Retirement,” would also establish federal standards of operation in managed care communities, including assisted living, and lays the foundation to address the caregiver shortage in the space.
The plan preserves private insurance and Medicare Advantage options for seniors, similar to his health care plan, Medicare for All Who Want It. It also addresses the need for more long-term care workers over the next decade by expanding opportunities and training for young people to pursue careers in the industry.
Buttigieg would expand funding for long-term care registered apprenticeship programs; give labor unions a role in developing and establishing national standards for training programs for the long-term care workforce; expose high school and college students to career opportunities in the industry; invest in community college partnership programs to support students’ entry into the direct care workforce; and set a $15 per hour minimum wage for workers in the industry.
Buttigieg draws from personal experience with this proposal, he said in releasing the plan. Like many families across the country, he and his mother struggled to navigate the possibility of arranging for long-term care for his father, Joseph, who died last January. At one point, a social worker told Buttigieg’s mother that her best option was to spend down their wealth until they were asset-poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
“I am determined to usher in a new era for older Americans, one that empowers them to age and retire with dignity,” he said in his announcement.
The plan does not detail how all its provisions would be funded.
Maintaining affordability in senior living is one issue for which owners and operators in the industry are seeking answers.
The incoming baby boomer generation has not fully recovered the wealth it lost during the Great Recession due to a combination of home equity values never recovering to their pre-2007 levels in many parts of the country, carrying too much debt heading into retirement and exiting their prime earning years. The middle-market senior cohort will reach 14.4 million people by 2029, and 56% of them will not be able to afford private-pay senior housing at today’s market rates, according to research findings released in April by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) and academic institutions.
The cost of assisted living rose 1.28% in the past year to $4,051 per month, or $48,612 per year, according to the latest Cost of Care Survey from insurer Genworth Financial (NYSE: GNW).
Buttigieg’s proposal comes as the candidate has surged in recent polling. He eclipsed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to lead the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll of potential caucus-goers in the Hawkeye State.