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Caring for the Baby Boomers

June 09, 2006

In case you haven't heard, the baby boomers aren't so young any more. In five years, the first of them will be 65.

That sounds like a lot of time, but to the West Virginia officials looking at an overhaul of the state's long-term care system, it will take all of that time - and maybe more - to get the job done correctly.

To say that the issue is urgent is no exaggeration. The Associated Press reports that 15.3 percent of the state's residents are older than 65.

That's third in the nation after Pennsylvania, with 15.6 percent and Florida, with 17.6 percent.

About 18 percent of West Virginia's population is between 50 and 64. That's what is termed "near elderly" by Sally Richardson, executive director of the West Virginia University Institute for Health Policy Research.

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Richardson said 17 percent of that group is uninsured and the same percentage is living in poverty.

So what is the state doing to prepare for the care of these aging citizens?

Richardson said the state has begun to use a Medicaid Aged and Disabled Waiver program.

The program allows people to hire their own assistants so they can remain in the own communities, as opposed to going to a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

Richardson said the waiver program costs $12,192 annually per patient, as opposed to $32,418 for nursing-home patients.

That means the possible savings are substantial.

The waiver program served 4,636 people last year at a total cost of $60 million, while the state paid $366 million for nursing home care for 11,296 people.

To be sure, not every patient will be able to stay at home, even with medical help. But every patient who can be served at home represents a potential saving of $20,000 per year.

Beyond the savings, however, is the fact that being able to stay in one's home adds to the quality of life, a large part of which is feeling that you're still in control of your surroundings.

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