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Tax to cover in-home care proposed

State Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher proposed a new long-term health care plan for the nation on Friday that he says would keep some elderly people out of nursing homes.

Gallagher called for a weekly $5 tax from employees and employers, similar to Social Security, to support both in-home care and nursing home care.

He spoke to about 200 elderly people at the Lightfoot Recreation Center.

"The benefits and costs would be shared equally," Gallagher said. "Everybody pays. Everybody benefits. Anything less and the program would fail." Gallagher said he thinks the program needs $50-billion to get started.

If nothing else, the program should provide elderly people the choice of staying home as opposed to going to a nursing home.

"There is very little government assistance available for at-home care," he said. "We need to declare that no citizen should ever be forced by a disability to live in an institution simply because they are unable to care for themselves at home alone."

Right now, Gallagher said he is trying to find out what elderly people think of the plan. Sometime soon, he said he would take the proposal to some of Florida's congressional representatives and try to get them to pitch the idea.

While the at-home care appealed to the elderly in the audience, several nursing home officials who heard the pitch said the insurance commissioner needs to learn a little more about the nursing home business.

"I think he needs to be informed about when it is appropriate for nursing home services," said Sue Luther, community relations director for University Village retirement community. "People should be . . . (their own) judges of the best place to be. A lot of people need to be educated about when they should remain at home and when they should go to a nursing home."

Bill Murar, of Temple Terrace, said he liked Gallagher's proposal and didn't think the $5 tax was too much to pay for long-term health care.

"It seems like a good plan to me," Murar said. "But I don't think it's going to affect the rich that much. If I was a millionaire I could care less about other people not having health care benefits.

"But I think it's very good for those of us that aren't rich."