SEATTLE - In less than 20 years, one in five Washington residents will be age 65 or older, and more than half the Washingtonians questioned in a new poll said they'll have to either rely on government assistance or a lottery win to finance their long-term health-care needs as they age.
At a forum today in Seattle, an expert panel takes up an option with better odds. Dr. Joshua Wiener, senior researcher at RTI International, an author and expert on long-term care, is on the panel. His research already has helped shape long-term care policy for the state of Hawaii.
He sees the bright side of an aging population, and says it gives states such as Washington a chance to build a better system to care for seniors.
"Nobody's happy with the system we have now, which depends heavily on people impoverishing themselves and ending up on Medicaid. But no state has been willing to really make a major change there."
In the poll, 90 percent of people agreed they are likely to need some kind of long-term support or services, but only 20 percent had purchased long-term care insurance. One-third said they'd use their retirement savings to pay for care.
The poll also found one in five people in Washington has no plan for retirement, and 18 percent incorrectly think they'll be able to rely on Medicare, which in fact covers care for only a short time.
As baby boomers flood the system, Dr. Wiener says it can't help but cost more, so it's critical that states do some planning.
"Over the long run, we're going to have to find additional tax revenue to pay for these services, because you can't serve twice as many people on the same tax base. That's just kind of mathematically impossible. And we're just going to have to find a way, politically, to do that."
Sixty-four percent of the people polled said they want to get care at home rather than relocate to a group home or nursing home. Wiener says that's good, because home- and community-based care is less expensive, no matter who pays the bill.
The forum, "Preparing for the Silver Tsunami," is at 12:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) at the Arctic Club Hotel, 700 3rd Ave., Seattle.
The poll was conducted the last week of December by Elway Research for SEIU Healthcare 775NW. Other forum sponsors include the Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging, Washington Dental Service Foundation, and the Washington State Senior Citizens' Lobby.