Presidential hopeful Cory Booker, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, has announced plans to drastically increase funding for long-term care, with the goal being to give more Americans the option to age in place.
Booker unveiled his plans this week during a presidential forum in Iowa hosted by the AARP and the Des Moines Register.
The funding increase would be geared toward low- and middle-income seniors specifically, helping to expand access to long-term care benefits available through Medicaid.
While Medicaid eligibility can vary by state, the program generally covers low-income people — thus encouraging some people to decrease their assets before they are eligible for long-term care services and supports.
“We have a system now that’s just unfair,” Booker said during the forum. “It forces you to impoverish yourself in order to qualify for a lot of the Medicaid benefits. That to me is just unacceptable.”
However, many low- and middle-income seniors are currently left with no choice, as paying for private home care services out of pocket can be unaffordable.
The average cost of home care in America was $4,004 per month in 2018, according to the latest Genworth Cost of Care Survey. Home health services, meanwhile, cost about $4,195 per month on average in 2018.
“In one of the richest nations in the world, no person should ever go broke or have to quit their job to afford long-term care or to take care of a loved one,” Booker said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Booker’s plan would raise the asset and income caps outlined by Medicaid so more middle- and low-income people can access the long-term care benefits. Specifically, he wants to increase the Medicaid asset limit for long-term care to $200,000 and increase the income limit to 300% of the federal poverty line, which is nearly $50,000 for a family of two.
Booker also shared his belief that all Americans should have the option to age in their homes when medically possible — and his plans to support legislation to allow for that.
On top of tackling affordability for seniors, Booker’s plan also aims to improve pay for caregivers.
“One of the biggest problems with the home health care field right now is attracting people into the profession and making sure … that we actually pay people wages that are positive and strong,” Booker said during the forum.
In 2018, caregiver turnover hit an all-time high of 82%, with the challenging nature of the work, low pay, inconsistent hours and a competitive labor market often cited as driving factors for the labor shortage.
However, Booker’s plan aims to change that: It would increase the pay for in-home caregivers to $15 per hour, giving them additional training and full benefits. The proposal would also expand the earned income tax credit for family caregivers.
It’s unclear exactly how much Booker’s plan would cost, but he proposes changing the tax code to overhaul the capital gains, estate and income tax provisions to pay for it.