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Better long-term medical care urged

A state official said Monday he is forming a Long-Term Care Advisory Panel to devise a better system of providing long-term care for Florida in the next decade when it will see a 75 percent increase in the number of people over the age of 85. "Florida is clearly facing a future crisis," said a report prepared by the office of Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher. "Long-term care funding is currently straining both personal and government budgets."

Unless improvements are undertaken, the strain can only worsen as Florida's elderly population increases and creates a greater demand for long-term care.

Long-term care refers to nursing homes and community care facilities like group homes, adult day care centers, retirement communities. Most people who need long-term care are over the age of 85.

Gallagher said he was forming a 31-member Long-Term Care Advisory Panel because Florida has some 196,000 people that old and by the turn of the century that number will shoot to 346,176.

"Long-term care is a human and financial crisis in the making," he told reporters.

Nearly one of every five Floridians now is over 65 and in five years the country will match that ratio, Gallagher said.

"Already in Florida we see a convergence leading to a crisis," he said. "It's a collision of better medical technology, earlier retirement, the high cost of health care, an aging population and inadequate services.

Also Monday Gallagher released a report on the current status of long-term care.

Gallagher's office concluded that most of the 54,000 residents in Florida's 488 nursing homes are well-served but that the quality of care for many is unacceptable.

Low reimbursement rates, inadequate care, fragmentation and duplication of services plague the current system, according to the report.

Most people pay for long-term care from their own savings. When they run out of money they turn to federal poverty programs.