WASHINGTON _ With more than $26,000 in medical bills for their disabled daughter, the Kandel family of Cleveland, Ohio, is in a middle-class health care pinch.
Even with insurance, they still pay more than $8,000 a year from their own pockets. Yet they are ineligible for government help because of their middle-class income.
“You go to college and work hard,” as Kandel says of the problem, “and you just never can get ahead as a middle-class family.”
The Kandel family is not alone. In his new budget proposal, President Bill Clinton cites these statistics: more than five million Americans live with chronic illness or disabilities that require long-term care. About two-thirds of them are elderly. More than 250,000 are children. But only about 1.5 percent of all Americans has private insurance to cover some long-term care cost.
Clinton’s budget, which will be unveiled Wednesday, calls for a $3,000 tax credit for those who need long-term care or their families caring for them. The credit would be phased in beginning with $1,000 in 2001. It would be available to married couples with an income up to $110,000 and to single taxpayers who earn up to $75,000. The credit would continue to rise $500 a year through 2005.
An affluent Pennsylvania couple, Richard and Dawn Kelso, recently drew national attention to parents struggling to raise children with special needs when, on the day after Christmas, they left their disabled son at a Delaware children’s hospital with a note saying they could no longer care for him.
The Kelsos were sharply criticized as uncaring. But many families with long-term care needs sympathized with the emotional and financial drain faced by the middle-class. Many of those families say their insurance and government programs often won’t pay for equipment and supplies to keep the disabled at home. They face high co-payments and out-of-pocket expense not covered by insurance. And their middle-class incomes keep them from qualifying for many government health care programs. With those pressures, many say they cannot afford to keep their disabled family members out of institutions.
“I don’t want to be penalized because I care about my son,” said Jackie Golden, of the National Parent Network on Disabilities. The group works as advocates on behalf of families. Added Golden, “Many times families fall through the cracks because they are not impoverished enough to get coverage but they can barely survive.”
Some families doubt Clinton’s proposal will be enough. Lin Kandel of Cleveland, for example, faces escalating costs for the care of her 12-year-old daughter, Sara, who has seizures, is physically and mentally disabled, and has had several operations. Their co-payments are rising and the family expects their $8,000 a year out-of-pocket costs to grow as well, said Kandel.
The family wants to keep Sara at home, said Kandel. “Caring for my daughter is something I will do,” she said. She added, “Even with Clinton’s new proposals, middle-class families like us will go on struggling.”