Friday, March 30, 2007

Tales Told in the Times Leader

Four articles separately appeared earlier this week (March 25-29, 2007) in one newspaper, the Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA) -- a major publication in Northeastern Pennsylvania -- that highlight issues of many Pennsylvania seniors, and that offer an alert to younger residents who will deal with a growing "senior hood".

Read sequentially and considered together, these four separately sourced articles appearing in one newspaper over a short time, spotlight trends facing seniors and our society over the next twenty years.

Whether addressed by revolution or evolution, these situations will have both societal and individual effects that likely will create confusion and spawn creativity similar to the period described by Charles Dickens in
A Tale of Two Cities.

The First Article
"$1 million isn’t what it used to be — but it’s still awfully nice", by Eileen Alt Powell (published Sunday, March 25, 2007):

Renee Weese has reached an enviable goal — she’s become a millionaire. But like many others whose net worth has risen in recent years to seven figures, she doesn’t feel particularly wealthy.

Not that long ago, the word “millionaire” conjured up visions of chauffeured limousines, extravagant shopping trips and elegant yachts.

These days, a millionaire is more likely to be the guy or gal next door who saved carefully — and perhaps benefited from the sharp run-up in housing prices — but still worries about covering the exploding costs of children’s educations, caring for aging parents and funding their own retirements. * * *

The Second Article -- "Health costs strain retirement stash" (Wednesday, March 28, 2007):
Rising health care costs are eating up more of retirees’ savings, with a 65-year-old couple retiring this year needing about $215,000 to cover medical costs over the rest of their lives, Fidelity Investments said Tuesday.

The $215,000 represents a 7.5 percent increase from Fidelity’s estimate last year of the amount a typical U.S. couple would need during retirement to pay for health care, including medical and surgical expenses as well as prescription drugs.

That increase is slightly higher than the average annual increase of 6.1 percent since Fidelity began calculating retiree health care expenses five years ago. Since then, the highest increase came in 2005, when the estimate rose 8.6 percent. * * *

Those costs are rising faster than overall inflation because of increasingly expensive medical technologies, costlier prescription drugs and longer life expectancy. * * *
The Third Article -- "School retirees hear presentation on long-term care" (Wednesday, March 28, 2007, which included the photo above):

Bill Pitzer, long-term care insurance representative with Professional Insurance Services, presented a seminar to the Luzerne/Wyoming counties chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees. His topic was on a long-term care program endorsed by the association. * * *

The Fourth Article -- "State lawmakers seek input on health care changes" -- Eachus says new legislation is possible now that Democrats are in the majority", by Rory Sweeney (Thursday, March 29, 2007, with a link to referenced pending legislative Bill):

A new majority in state government has opened legislative opportunities that were blocked during past sessions of the General Assembly, a local lawmaker said.

Health care reform had been “impossible to get” while Democrats were in the minority, state Rep. Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township, said. Eachus, who has been in Harrisburg for 10 years, is the Democratic policy chairman in the state House of Representatives.

Now, legislators are crisscrossing the Commonwealth, soliciting insight from the public on how to improve health care availability in the state.

The meetings have highlighted some key points, such as the fact that health care cost increases are straining the ability of Pennsylvania employers to pay for employees’ coverage, Eachus said.

“They are tired of insurance companies increasing health insurance … every year,” he said.

Ideas gleaned from the talks will figure into what Eachus calls “an aggressive … array” of more than four and fewer than 15 bills developed as a strategic plan by House Democrats.

“ … That’s going to be the framework for discussing health care reform in Pennsylvania,” he said.

The bills will be introduced within the next five weeks, according to Eachus. * * *

On March 28, 2007, the Daily & Sunday Review (Towanda, PA) published an editorial entitled "A long-term repair for long-term care in Pennsylvania". It asks the Legislature to provide effective services, with efficiency, to the aging population in Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania’s roster of services for older residents is among the most comprehensive of any state. The state has the third-oldest average age among the states, with 20 percent of the population older than 60.

Yet, as the Times-Tribune in Scranton put it, the state is well behind most other states in adapting to financial trends affecting long-term care, a crucial but sometimes forgotten aspect of health care. * * *

Now Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and two legislative Republicans have proposed changes akin to those in the 37 other states that have reduced their costs. Assisted-living facilities would be defined under state law as institutions that may accept Medicaid patients and be regulated by the state government.

There is a dispute in Pennsylvania between operators of personal care homes and assisted-living centers over legal definitions, Medicaid eligibility and regulation.

But for the state, the objective is to find less costly, alternative forms of care for older residents who need some assistance short of the round-the-clock nursing services provided by nursing homes.

Following the lead of other states by creating more options for older residents, short of the most expensive option, is a good idea that will help stretch reduced federal funding of Medicaid.

We agree with the Times-Tribune [Scranton PA, Editorial, March 27, 2007, "Long-term repair for long-term care"] that the Legislature should seize the opportunity.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way."

-- Charles Dickens, Opening Lines of A Tale of Two Cities
(published serially, April-November, 1859)