Hawaii legislature proposes LTC benefits for seniors

Hawaii could offer long-term care (LTC) benefits to seniors, the first state in the nation to do so.

Rosayln Baker (D-Maui), chair of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee, introduced legislation Thursday for the rapidly growing senior population. Every person who files Hawaii state income tax for 10 years would be eligible for a benefit of $70 a day for up to 365 days.

Those 365 days could be spread out over several years. The $70 benefit could be used to pay family caregivers, in-home aides or defray the cost of safety equipment, such as walkers and ramps. The benefit amount is expected to increase by about 3 percent annually to account for rising care costs.

"Our target was to look at what it would cost to help someone get four hours of home or commuity care," says Lawrence Nitz to The American Prospect. Nitz is a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who conducted research on LTC financing for the state. "Seventy dollars means you could plan to go to work, you could take time to meet your child's teacher. It is enough to help people avoid losing their jobs while still balancing care responsibilties."

Benefits would be triggered once someone requires assistance with at least two activities of daily living or suffers from severe cognitive impairment, the same as with private LTC insurance. Benefit funding would come from a 0.5 percent increase in Hawaii’s general excise (GE) tax, a tax on the gross income of most Hawaii businesses. State officials estimate tourists could finance about one-third of the program’s cost. 

The program would begin paying beneficiaries five years after it begins and must remain financially solvent for 75 years.

Hawaii's 65 or older population is growing four times faster than the total population, according to U.S. Census data from 2014. Island culture has a tradition of honoring and caring for their kupunas, Hawaiian for elders.

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