THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 4, 1999 11:36 A.M. EST
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON LONG-TERM HEALTH CARE INITIATIVE
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Patricia, for your fine statement and for the power of your example. And we appreciate you and your husband being here today and the work that you're doing.
We this Congressman Hoyer for bringing his constituent here today. And we welcome Senator Reid, Senator Breaux, Senator Specter, Senator Dodd, Senator Wyden, Congressman Brown, Cardin, Moran, and Cummings. And I'd also like to say, Senator Mikulski has a special interest in this issue and wanted to be here today, but could not.
You know, this new year gives us all a sense of making a fresh start, a sense of being able to think anew. It should also give us a sense of rededication. I'm delighted to see here, along with the members of our administration -- Secretary Rubin, Secretary Shalala, and Janice LaChance -- so many advocates not only for seniors, but for the disabled.
We need to be looking ahead at the issue that Patricia Darlak described so clearly and powerfully, to the challenges that the new century will present us, because there will be many, many, many more stories like hers. That is the fundamental reality. Already there are millions of people out there helping to care for an aged or disabled loved one, but there will be many more like her in the 21st century.
Now, that is, for those of us who are part of the baby boom generation, what we would call a high-class problem because we will be "them" -- "they" -- we will be "they." Is that the right -- but the baby boom is about to become a senior boom, and like the baby boom, the senior boom will change the face of America. During the next 30 years, 76 million baby boomers will join the ranks of the retired. The number of elderly Americans will double by 2030; by the middle of the next century, the average American will live to an age of 82 -- that's six years longer than the average life expectancy today.
Now, as I said, those of us who hope to be in that group consider that a high-class problem. We also are very encouraged that people are living stronger, healthier lives. We are encouraged that disabled Americans have more options to live fully and healthily for a longer period of time. We are encouraged that all these folks are proving that retirement can be a beginning as well as an end. We see all kinds of people learning new ideas, taking up new work, doing new community services; traveling and going places they never would have imagined before.
But we know that with aging, inevitably, come the infirmities of age. Nearly half the people over 85 -- one of the fastest-growing segments of our population -- need help with everyday, basic tasks -- eating, dressing, going to a doctor. We cannot expect that every older American will be able to fend for himself or herself. And the real question is what are our obligations to help every American get the care that is appropriate for each individual case?
Millions require the care that can only be provided in a nursing home. But millions more choose to remain at home with family and friends. Indeed, the elderly are remaining at home in record numbers. The same is true of people with disabilities. Today millions and millions of households are caring for elderly relatives, or even for neighbors. They represent the best of America, fulfilling a family obligation, often unspoken but deeply resonant in the American character.
Providing long-term care at home is more and more a common choice, but, as you have just heard, it is rarely an easy one. Since this kind of care is almost never covered by private insurance or Medicare, out-of-pocket expenses can be staggering. So, too, are the professional costs. Caregivers who hold jobs outside the home -- that is, the vast majority -- may have to take unpaid leave or work fewer hours to fulfill their responsibilities. In countless ways, caregiving is vital, meaningful work. But as you have heard, it can also be very stressful.
The First Lady has mentioned some of the things we have worked to do to ease the burden of families -- improving nursing homes, strengthening Medicare, making Medicaid more flexible. But more will be asked of us in the 21st century, and more must be done.
Today, we announce a critical new initiative to give care to the caregivers; to help Americans provide long-term care for aging, ailing and disabled loved ones. The size of the senior boom demands it, the needs of our disabled population require it; the length of our lives makes it more important than ever -- and so does the sacrifice of American families who put the well-being of their relatives above their own.
This is a complicated challenge that requires a range of responses. Therefore, to improve long-term care in America and to give it a priority and support these families, we propose to do four things:
First, to provide a long-term care tax credit -- $1,000 for people with long-term care needs or for the families that shelter them. It is far better to devote this money to help keep the elderly and the disabled at home than to spend the same amount to pay for them to live away from home. And if it makes it possible for more people to stay home it may well be cheaper, too. Our parents worked and saved and sacrificed for us in our youth; adult children are now working, saving and sacrificing for their parents in old age. It is the cycle of life and one we should recognize and reward.
This targeted tax cut of $1,000, paid for in our balanced budget, would meet the individual needs of individual families, supplementing the care they already provide, empowering them to decide what to do and how to do it best. It would help to offset the direct cost of long-term care, like home health visits and adult day care; as well as the indirect costs, like unpaid leave some caregivers must take. The care they provide is invaluable, but we can show that it is valued by our society.
Second, we should create a family caregiver support program, a new national network to support people caring for older Americans. In decades past, families could do little for ailing relatives but give them shelter and love. But today, because of advances in science, caregivers tend to everything, from dialysis to depression, preparing intravenous meals and insulin injections. This initiative enables states to create one-stop shops, places caregivers can access the resources of the community, find technical guidance, obtain respite and adult day care services. This is especially important for those families who are thousands of miles away from their loved ones, but who still want to help. These families want to provide the best possible care. We want to do everything in our power to help them.
Third, we must educate Medicare beneficiaries about long-term care options. Medicare does not cover most kinds of long-term care, so it is important that beneficiaries understand their alternatives.
This initiative helps to answer essential questions efficiently: What are my choices? What should I look for in private long-term care insurance policies? By launching a national education campaign we can help to ensure people get the answers they need when they need them, and the quality care they deserve.
Fourth, I am proposing that the federal government, as the nation's largest employer, use its market leverage to set an example, offering private long-term care insurance to federal employees. By promoting high-quality, affordable care, we can encourage more people and more companies to invest in long-term care coverage. We can help more employees in every part of our economy to prepare for the future.
There's no single solution to the challenges of caregiving. But together, these initiatives represent a powerful first step to force the kind of changes we need in our society. To fulfill our fundamental obligations to older Americans and people with disabilities, we must act together -- members of both parties, both branches of government -- putting progress above partisanship. I believe there is an enormous amount of interest in, and support for, this initiative in the Congress, and I thank the members who have come here today.
I hope that the Congress will do many things on this front in the coming session. I hope these initiatives will pass; Senator Breaux will soon give us a Medicare Reform Commission report. I hope we will save Medicare for the 21st century. I hope we will use the surplus to save Social Security for the 21st century. All of these things will help to strengthen America as we go forward.
The senior boom is one of the central challenges of the coming century. I can tell you that as, literally, the oldest of the baby boomers -- those of us born right after World War II -- one of the central worries of my generation is that, as we age, we will impose unsustainable burdens on our children and undermine their ability to raise our grandchildren. We must use this time now to do everything in our power, not only to lift the quality of life and the security of the aged and disabled today, and the baby boom aged and disabled, but to make sure that we do not impose that intolerable burden on our children.
I have asked the Vice President, who will speak with us, along with Mrs. Gore, in just a moment, to conduct a series of forums around the country on this initiative, to solicit other ideas and reach out to people and to build grass-roots support. We want to hear from the people of the country about how we can help to meet the long-term care needs of their loved ones.
Again, let me thank all the people in the administration who worked on this, the members of Congress who are here, the members of the aging and disability community who are here. And I thank you, Patricia Darlak, for your moving statement. Hillary and I have had our own experiences with long-term care of our parents -- in my case, our grandparents. We have seen the Vice President and Mrs. Gore deal with the same challenge. So this is a personal thing that I think we feel very deeply.
I'd like to say a special word of appreciation to the Vice President, because he's had such an interest in our family caregiving program. He is now going to speak to us from California. He's coming up on the satellite, along with Mrs. Gore, and he's got some folks with him who know quite a bit about this.
Good morning, Mr. Vice President. The floor is yours. Good morning, Tipper.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I want to thank the Vice President and Tipper, and also all the folks that are out there with them in California, for the example they are sending and the initiatives that are being made in California. I know the Vice President is about to go to the new Governor's inauguration out there. You ought to take the opportunity to put in a plug for what we're doing there. I'm sure you will. (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, let me say, again, how grateful I am for all the people who have worked on this proposal, for the advocates for the elderly and the disabled who are here, for the very large representation from Congress. And thank you, again, for the passion and the commitment that you manifested in your statement and for having the courage to come here and tell us about your situation. I hope it will help to change the future of America.
God bless you and happy New Year. Thank you. (Applause.)