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Most in Poll Back Taxes for Elderly Care

October 06, 1987|ROBERT A. ROSENBLATT | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A large majority of Americans in a nationwide poll said that they would be willing to pay higher taxes to help cover the costs of nursing home care and home care for the elderly, a coalition of retiree and health groups announced Monday.

The coalition of 83 organizations plans to spend several million dollars, including extensive television and newspaper advertising in the key campaign states of Iowa and New Hampshire, to make the financing of long-term care a major issue in the 1988 presidential race.

The poll of 1,000 registered voters showed that long-term care is a "sleeper" subject that could have a real impact in presidential politics, according to RL Associates, the Princeton, N.J., firm that conducted the survey. It found that 68% of those responding would be willing to pay more taxes to fund a government long-term care program, 22% would not and 10% had no opinion. The poll had a 3% margin of error.

In recent years, advocates for the elderly had repeatedly pressed Congress to expand government subsidized health programs to provide long-term care. However, such proposals have met with resistance because of the cost, which could worsen the federal budget deficit.

The survey found that, depending on their income, respondents said they would be willing to pay from $10 to $60 a month in additional taxes to finance a federal program. "We want to expose the quiet suffering of millions of families and help make long-term care an important political issue that no presidential candidate is likely to ignore," Ronald F. Pollack, executive director of the Villers Foundation, told a news conference launching the lobbying campaign.

The poll, conducted in July, was paid for by the American Assn. of Retired Persons and Villers, which is involved in issues affecting the elderly.

Nursing home care, which frequently costs $20,000 a year or more, is the biggest single threat to the financial security of the elderly. It costs them more in out-of-pocket spending than hospital bills do, according to government figures.

The federal Medicare program covers nursing home bills in relatively few cases--usually only those involving persons just released from a hospital who need temporary skilled nursing care.

Only 2% of the $35 billion in nursing home costs in 1985 were paid by Medicare, and fewer than 500,000 elderly Americans have private insurance policies that pay for custodial care.

The poll showed a preference for funding expanded government coverage through general income taxes rather than Social Security taxes.

The long-term care issue has received some attention in the presidential campaign. A 90-minute candidates' forum has been scheduled on the subject in New Hampshire.

Republican candidate Jack Kemp, who will address such a forum this week, advocates providing incentives, such as tax deductions, rather than higher taxes to encourage the purchase of private insurance. Democratic hopeful Paul Simon has called for lifting the ceiling on the Medicare payroll tax to raise $6 billion a year to pay for a long-term care program.

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