State-level candidates square off in two forums on one day: State-level candidates square off in two forums on one day

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2006

By Adam Hammer, staff writer

In the next 25 years, the number of Minnesotans over 65 years old will double, Jill Peterson said before asking the first question at Tuesday&8217;s legislative forum at Good Samaritan Center north of Albert Lea. Twenty-nine percent of that aging population will not be able to afford long-term care, she added.

Tuesday afternoon&8217;s forum featured District 27 Senate candidates Sen. Dan Sparks and George Marin as well as District 27A House candidates Robin Brown and Matt Benda in a discussion about their stances on long-term care.

&8220;We&8217;ve done some good things at the state level, but there&8217;s still a lot of things we need to do,&8221; Sparks said in his opening statement.

Long-term care financing

Sparks stood on a platform of experience and discussed proposals at the state level that have been made over the past four years to create a partnership with long-term care insurance companies and the state.

He is also in favor of reverse mortgages, which allow people who have paid off their homes to receive money from lenders.

&8220;The goal is to allow those individuals to stay in their homes,&8221; Sparks said.

Marin acknowledged Sparks&8217; voting record, which is something Marin does not have at the state level. He also stated that Sparks&8217; last win at the polls &8212; a narrow one &8212; was not a mandate.

Marin spoke of his core values of patriotism and hard work. He said there are people who have worked for a living without government subsidies who are running out of funds and will need government to help.

&8220;I believe, like my good friend Matt Benda, not in bigger government, but better government,&8221; Marin said. &8220;I believe the government shouldn&8217;t be a one-stop shop to meet everybody&8217;s needs.&8221;

On long-term care financing, he said he is in favor of offering incentives for reverse mortgages but also believes in continued growth and use of health savings accounts to fund long-term care.

He is also in favor of incentives for Minnesotans who purchase long-term-care insurance.

Benda also offered a solution of incentives for long-term-care insurance, where people who purchased $100,000, for example, in insurance could shield $100,000 in assets instead of having to spend down.

He said he was in favor of a budget-neutral solution.

&8220;I think that&8217;s the number one answer,&8221; Benda said.

Brown said she does not have the solution to long-term-care financing but believes it is a matter of priorities and a necessity to care for the elderly.

&8220;I am sure going to talk with anyone and everyone to figure out what it&8217;s going to take to make that happen,&8221; she said. &8220;My mom had eight kids and she said there&8217;s always eight answers to any given problem.&8221;

Financial health of nursing facilities

Marin said he is clearly the pro-life senator candidate who strongly supports life and family. He said he feels financial health of nursing facilities could benefit from putting an end to taxpayer-paid abortions.

He said nursing facilities could also benefit from welfare reform. Knocking on doors, Marin said, he has encountered many able-bodied people sitting around collecting handouts from the government.

&8220;They should be putting their hand to the plow, carrying their own weight, and that&8217;s what I believe,&8221; he said.

Marin also feels nursing facilities could benefit from immigration reform.

Brown said it&8217;s a matter of prioritizing funding at the state level. She said there are ways to pay for what you believe in without raising taxes.

She said we also need to create an environment in our government where more people are able to take care of themselves.

&8220;If we&8217;re not taking care of the weakest, who are we anyway,&8221; she said.

Benda noted funding disparities between metro and rural areas in education, roads and nursing homes and said that gap needs to be lessened.

He said we need to act as one state and said he hopes to continue the tradition started by state Rep. Dan Dorman, who steps down in December.

Sparks said the answer is simple and people need to prioritize where state funds should be placed. He said there is no reason funding for nursing homes should be bleak.

He said the state needs to concentrate on fully funding its mandates.

Antiquated nursing facility infrastructure

Brown feels more conversation needs to be had with caregivers to find solutions to funding necessary updates to facilities.

&8220;We need to listen to figure out what they need and do what it takes to make this happen,&8221; she said.

She said at the state level, she supports non-partisan conversation to get the job done.

Benda offered solutions of grant programs, bonding proposals and loan assistance programs to help facilities make necessary updates.

He said nursing facilities cannot be market driven and didn&8217;t think the answer is necessarily more government spending.

Sparks hopes to create a revolving loan program where money gets reused through nursing facilities. When updates are finished at one nursing facility, the funds would be transferred to another facility in the state.

Marin touted his accomplishments of being part of the Good Samaritan Center&8217;s chapel expansion and raising funds locally.

&8220;We don&8217;t have to come up with anything creative, we just need to know where to put the money,&8221; Marin said.

Access to home- and community-based services

Benda said the state is already on the right track to provide incentives. He said locally residents are fortunate to have some programs in place such as facilities offering training at Riverland Community College.

Sparks said community-based services could benefit from finding ways to control heating, gas and transportation costs. He said the state needs to continue to think about programs that help people care for elderly family members at home, such as adult day-care centers.

&8220;It was sad for me to see the numbers drop off when they had to start paying for those services,&8221; he said.

Marin noted that the money is there, but it needs to be shifted. He also said the state needs to support elderly waiver programs and work toward property tax relief, which would benefit homeowners who care for elderly.

Brown&8217;s stance is to offer tax credits for home caregivers, similar to offering tax credits for people with children. She also said funds can be made available by prioritizing where money goes at the state level.

Bringing and keeping more young people in the community would also be a way for the community and home caregivers to benefit by growing the economy and not increasing taxes.

&8220;I do believe it, we have a right to healthcare,&8221; Brown said. &8220;It&8217;s a right, not a privilege.&8221;

Addressing unfunded mandates

Marin said he would like to see a partnership of management and workers who would address the Legislature with concerns and believes in more control at the local level.

He said the state needs to ditch no-common sense unfunded mandates.

Brown believes that anything the state legislates, it needs to find funding for. That funding does not have to be tax dollars, she said.

&8220;We need to take care of the people who are taking care of the people we love,&8221; she said.

Benda said the solution is at a bi-partisan level and feels the state needs to concentrate on common-sense regulations that are responsive to the needs of the industry. He said nurses need to be caregivers and not secretaries.

He said tort reform for liability insurance could also benefit nursing facilities.

The state should be prepared to fund mandates, Sparks said. Nursing homes also need to have lower insurance costs and the state needs to work with administrators to look at what is outdated.

Sparks said his record should speak for itself.