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Legislators must address Alzheimer's epidemic


March 21, 2019

On April 2, Montanans will join hundreds of other alzheimer’s advocates from across the country in our nation’s capitol, meeting with Senator Daines, Senator Tester and Congressman Gianforte. The resounding message will again be loud and clear: alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America and must be a public health priority.

Indeed, it is the epidemic of our generation. An estimated 5.8 million people are living with the disease, and nearly 14 million will have the disease by 2050. Families are struggling under the emotional, financial and physical weight of this devastating disease. Unlike other diseases, alzheimer’s is a triple threat with soaring prevalence, lack of effective treatment and enormous costs. This is why we work with elected officials to urge greater investment in alzheimer’s research and funds for vital programs providing care and support for all those affected.

Montana will have one of the highest percentages of senior citizens in the nation. Yet, we are painfully unequipped to care today for our family, friends and neighbors, let alone the growing number at risk. By 2025 the numbers of people in Montana living with Alzheimer’s will climb from 21,000 today to 27,000 with no slowdown in sight.

Alzheimer’s advocates in Montana have been encouraged by the leadership of legislators like Rep. Mary Caferro and Sen. Roger Webb. Currently, legislators are considering a budgetary measure to increase home and community-based service waiver slots and assisted living reimbursement rates. Similar legislation –House Bill 17- was signed into law with broad bipartisan support before the complete loss of funding to budget cuts in 2017. We have another chance to fund these services in 2019.

Why is this investment so vital? People can live an average of 8 to 12 years with Alzheimer’s (or other dementias), depleting their resources and leading many of them to qualify for Medicaid services. The waiting list for these services is protracted, at 250 people. These are proud, hardworking Montanans, now largely seniors who have no real remaining assets and nowhere to turn. By passing a budget with this funding, we would enhance the availability of Medicaid-covered home and community-based services so people can avoid or delay nursing home care – an option that is more costly and less preferable than assisted living facilities or private homes.

Not surprisingly, just 8 percent of Montanans say they would choose nursing home placement over living at home with assistance or in an assisted living community if life becomes difficult due to illness. This budget would increase reimbursement rates to enable providers to pay more competitive wages to attract and retain care-giving staff.

Alzheimer’s already takes a large toll on Montana’s Medicaid budget. Findings from the 2019 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report show that this year, Montana’s Medicaid spending for people with Alzheimer’s will exceed $157 million. By 2025, that figure is expected to increase by nearly 28 percent to over $200 million. There are opportunities to save significant dollars by expanding home and community-based options, costing Montana Medicaid far less than nursing home care. Research shows that caregiver support programs, collaborative care models and continuity of care can reduce avoidable health care use, including hospitalizations, for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The Alzheimer’s Association joins our community partners in urging additional care options for individuals and families buckling under the weight of Alzheimer’s.

Governor Bullock and legislators: please stand with elderly Montanans and their caregivers by passing a bipartisan budget increasing our investment in these vital services.


Nicholas Hart of Billings is director of public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association, Montana Chapter.


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