Story last updated at 12:23 p.m. Friday, September 6, 2002

Health care reform needed
By Marcus K. Garner
Morris News Service-Alaska

Tomorrow's roads must begin being paved today.

This was the message Charles Roadman, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association, delivered to Soldotna Chamber of Commerce members last week regarding health care reform.

"We're beginning to face a time where it's time to pay the piper," Roadman said. "It seems we have devolved in our (health care) system to wanting to give away more and more. We need to understand about paying the piper."

He said more familiar means of caring for aging family members over an extended period will not be able to be counted on unless communities or individuals start either investing in their futures or finding ways to trim the fat from anticipated long-term medical expense.

"Long-term care is really on the edge of implosion," Roadman said. "Today, funding for health care depends on two things -- Medicare or Medicaid. What we've got is an underfunded scheme that's going to get smaller. You can either decrease benefits or increase taxes."

Roadman was in Soldotna to speak at the three-day Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association meeting on behalf of AHCA, an organization that represents approximately 12,000 nonprofit and for-profit nursing facilities, assisted-living residences and subacute care centers.

He acts as the liaison to the executive branch and legislators in Washington, D.C., and to the media.

He said his experience with AHCA has offered him considerable insight on the growing need for revitalized long-term health care programs. He pointed to a shift in demographics that will see more people needing to care for themselves in the future as opposed to being able to rely on aid from family members.

"As we look at the population we are needing to take care of, we see there is nobody at home to take care of the elderly," Roadman said.

"Eighty-five-year-olds are the most rapidly growing demographic. The way our system is built, the trailing cohort is taking care of the leading cohort. The baby boomers are the leaders, and the trailing group is rapidly contracting."

He said where there has typically been some member of the family able to stay home with an aging family member, those numbers are shrinking as more households have two working adults instead of one.

"Forty-year-olds need to start preparing to take care of themselves," Roadman said.

More money should be put into the federal-state-funded Medicaid program, Roadman said.

"By putting more money into Medicaid over the long haul, we make it more sustainable."

He suggested moving to a system that is a "hybrid" of current U.S. health care systems and Canadian long-term health programs, which are totally government subsidized, do not require self-pay and provide an even level of care to all citizens.

"I don't think we will ever go to a system that is nationalized," he said.

Roadman reiterated that time for making this medical nest egg, however, is ticking down.

"If we don't do it today, by the time this demographic bulge catches up to us, it'll be too late."

Marcus K. Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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