A government task force yesterday recommended tax deductions for the insurance industry, individuals and employers to spur the growth of private nursing home insurance and protect the elderly from "potentially ruinous" nursing home bills.
The report also recommended that individuals be allowed, before and after retirement, to use money accumulated in pension plans, individual retirement accounts and life insurance plans for purchase of nursing home and other long-term care insurance without penalties or loss of tax deductions. The money saved tax-free over a lifetime could pay for the insurance, the report said.
"Very few people have the capacity to finance an extended nursing home stay or other long-term care services, but most people would be able to pay their long-term care costs with the help of insurance," said task force chairman Daniel P. Bourque, vice president of the Voluntary Hospitals of America.
The report was criticized by the American Association of Retired Persons, Chairman Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.) of the House Committee on Aging and the Villers Foundation, an advocacy group. They said the private-sector approach is unlikely to provide comprehensive protection, especially for low-income persons who cannot afford insurance even with tax breaks.
In 1984, Americans spent $32 billion on nursing home care; $15.8 billion of it came from out-of-pocket payments by recipients or their relatives, while $13.9 billion came from Medicaid, which finances nursing home care for the destitute.
The task force did not recommend any new government programs. Yesterday's recommendations were similar to ones made by Health and Human Services Secretary Otis R. Bowen a year ago.
The task force said that only 1.5 million of the 28 million elderly in 1984 were in nursing homes, but the $22,000 a year annual cost "quickly brings financial ruin to people on limited, fixed income," and this doesn't take into account the needs of about 4.5 million other elderly who are able to live at home but need help to do so. It said the need will become even greater because there will be 65 million people at age 65 and over by 2030.
Premiums for policies range widely. One larger plan, paying $50 a day for three years toward nursing home costs, plus other benefits, can be obtained from one major organization for $360 a year at age 60 or $1,400 at age 75.
Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), sponsor of the legislation that created the task force, said he didn't see stimulating private insurance as a substitute for public programs or for expanding Medicaid coverage. "Both are needed," he said.