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Utah Faces Significant Challenges Providing Long-Term Care

Unpaid family caregivers in Utah provide $4.2 billion worth of care a year. (Getty Images)
Unpaid family caregivers in Utah provide $4.2 billion worth of care a year. (Getty Images)
July 6, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah ranks 24th nationally when it comes to meeting the long-term care needs of older residents and people with disabilities, but the state is facing significant challenges including a rapidly aging population - according to a new state-by-state scorecard.

Laura Polacheck, communications director with AARP Utah, said the state ranks 48th in connecting residents to Medicaid services, and warned that Congressional health care proposals to cut the program by nearly $1 trillion would be devastating for the state's seniors.

"Medicaid is a lifeline. It's not simply a program for people who don't choose to have a job,” Polacheck said. "Thousands and thousands of older people rely on Medicaid for long-term care. They cannot rely on Medicare, Medicare does not cover any long-term care service."

Proponents of the plans making their way through the U.S. House and Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act argue that cutting Medicaid will reduce the federal deficit.

The scorecard, produced by AARP, The Commonwealth Fund and SCAN Foundation, found Utah leads the nation in effective transitions to long-term care and getting people care in their homes, where Polacheck said most people prefer to be.

The report highlighted the fact that over the next decade, Baby Boomers will begin to turn 80 and put new demands on Utah's long-term care system. The study also found that this generation will have far fewer potential family caregivers to provide unpaid help - largely because many will need assistance themselves.

Polacheck said caregivers need additional support to keep the system up and running, and pointed out most of the work they do is the same as work done by paid providers.

"And so when you look at the economic contribution of these unpaid family caregivers, it's $4.2 billion a year,” she said. “That's billion with a ‘B.’ And that's just in Utah - which is a huge contribution."

Polacheck said the good news is that even under tight state budgets, Utah is making progress. But she added that if the state could move into the number five position on the scorecard, more than $96 million more could be invested in home- and community-based services instead of nursing homes.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT