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September 20, 2014

Grin and Bear and Long-Term Care | Madisonville

Grin and Bear and Long Term Care | Madisonville  “Continuing the conversation” was the subtitle of the Senate Aging Committee’s hearing Wednesday on the future of long-term-care policy.  Continuing the conversation is a formulation with a lovely gentleness, an effort to reassure, to conjure up endless sunshine and an elderly couple taking long walks under autumn leaves surrounded by several generations of handsome, smiling descendants.

The easy-going feeling of “continuing the conversation” is also in hopeless contradiction to the grim reality.  The witnesses flood the panel with detail, but it mostly added up to an insolvable problem. Americans aren’t arranging for care in old age. Congress isn’t going to spend the money to do it for them. And the ratio between those needing care and those available to provide it is getting worse. At least nobody mentioned death panels.

In the Senate’s case, continuing the conversation just means they aren’t going to do anything about long-term care except keep talking. “Let’s not believe we’ll find a solution in one hearing,” Chairman Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said. That was about as big a surprise as a 75th birthday in the nursing home. Nobody in the hearing room looked crestfallen to hear that revelation.

Nelson is a natural choice to run this panel and not just because he’s from Florida. He has a never-ending grin, in both the temporal and the physical sense. He doesn’t just grin all the time. The corners of his mouth go so far back they might be visible from behind. If you aren’t going to solve the problem, you can at least be cheerful about it.

Long-term care might just be a women’s problem. Or maybe continuing the conversation is. At least that would explain why Susan Collins, R-Maine, Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gave it time while the men came and went, the grinning Nelson excepted.  Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said he was interested in the issue because he had a mother and a grandmother and used to be a governor.  Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., deferred to the women.

Tim Scott, R-S.C., broke the mold. Scott tried to sell the witnesses some insurance and then found a reason to leave. His Senate website says Scott built one of the most successful Allstate agencies in South Carolina. He might be trying to open a branch office in the Senate.  If you aren’t going to legislate, you’ve got to do something to pass the time.

Come to think of it, “continuing the conversation” sounds like the parting words of a salesman who hasn’t convinced you to take the policy. Yet.

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