The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 17, 2012

Spear column: End-of-life decisions matter beyond the individual

By Joe Spear
Free Press managing editor

— When the Minnesota lieutenant governor’s office called me a few days ago, the topic seemed a bit unusual for a discussion with a public official.

Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon wanted to talk about end-of-life decisions and long-term care insurance. The topic has particular relevance for her.

When her husband, former state Sen. Sam Solon, died 11 years ago, the news hit hard, she told me in a phone conversation Wednesday. After his diagnosis, he was given a few months to live.

They had no plans for the end-of-life decisions and it turned into a situation Prettner Solon describes as “very stressful.” An estate sale, probate court, selling the house and moving to an apartment changed her life dramatically and rapidly.

From that experience she promised herself she would not put her children through what she had gone through. She put her affairs in order, set up a will, established a living trust and bought long-term care insurance.

She’s now the main advocate for a state and national program to get people to take these issues seriously. She’s spearheading Minnesota’s Own Your Future campaign.

The effort focuses on three issues: raise awareness among people, especially those 40 to 65, to make some kind of long-term care plan; to work with insurance providers in helping them provide affordable long-term care insurance and other products; and to raise awareness among taxpayers that if we don’t act, we will all pay more.

The reality is hard to refute. For those 65 and older, 70 percent will use some kind of long-term care, Prettner Solon said. And the number of people who are 65 and older will grow by 107 percent between now and 2030. Those who will need to foot at least part of the bill through taxes — those under 65 — will grow by only 6 percent.

This isn’t only an issue of personal finance, it’s an issue of state finance. That’s because state programs such as Medical Assistance and Medicaid will be impacted by the long-term care costs of those qualifying for those programs.

The state’s current expense in long-term care costs comes in around $1 billion. By 2030, the cost could be as high as $5 billion, said Prettner Solon.

“That’s unsustainable. We’ll all end up paying for it.”

The Own Your Future program has a website (mn.gov/ownyourfuture) aimed at raising awareness. They’ve also enlisted some major employer/partners such as Thrivent Financial to take the lead in getting the word out and making their employees aware of the need to plan ahead.

Much needs to be done. A survey by the state showed that one-third of the people had not given the long-term care issue any thought. A good share of the rest thought the government was going to take care of it.

Prettner Solon says people think Medicare will cover long-term care, but in most cases, it does not. It only covers rehab care in a nursing home after a hospital visit of three days.

While the website helps raise awareness, more needs to be done. Gov. Dayton and Prettner Solon sent a letter to all Minnesotans in the 40-65 age group urging them to get prepared and visit the website for information. Prettner Solon said that helped some as the site initially had 40,000 page views, but those people didn’t spend a lot of time on the site. Fewer have come since then and stayed longer.

If you’re concerned about taxes and spending, finding out more about this long-term care issue and making a plan yourself may go a long way to avoiding handing down huge debts to the state’s and country’s next generation.

 

Joe Spear is editor of The Free Press. Contact him at 344-6382 or jspear@mankatofreepress.com