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Reprinted from Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.

Chances are, every person reading this will know someone whose life has been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.

And for those who have not yet been hit by the diagnosis of a close friend or relative, 2025 is looming.

By then, if no cure is found for the dementia-related illness, more than 7 million Americans older than age 65 will be affected — a 35 percent increase over today’s figures.

In Iowa, where the population older than 65 is higher than the national average, 64,000 people are living with the disease, and that number will climb to 73,000 in the next eight years.

Similarly, Wisconsin figures will rise from 110,000 to 130,000 by 2025, and Illinois, cases will go from 220,000 to 260,000.

A story researched by Iowa Watch and HuffPost, published recently in the The Courier and newspapers across the state, showed grave concerns on the part of health experts who anticipate an “Alzheimer’s tsunami.”

State and federal health care systems are woefully unprepared for what’s to come. The rise in Alzheimer’s coincides with changes in health care support at both the state and national level.

Iowa’s transition to a privatized Medicaid system 18 months ago gets mixed reviews. While Gov. Kim Reynolds points to a J.D. Power survey showing high patient satisfaction, area lawmakers have concerns about the most vulnerable Iowans. Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, noted constituents have lamented significant declines in services.

Medicaid remains the only government program that covers nursing home care, something more and more Alzheimer’s patients will require. Currently, Medicaid covers half the nursing home patients in Iowa, a number sure to increase as Alzheimer’s numbers rise.

Those changes in the state come as Congress examines options to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Instead of expanding Medicaid, the Republican plan calls for changing the way the program is funded. Though the details are not yet hammered out, Iowa health care officials fear it would likely force states to eliminate benefits or curtail enrollment.

While many readers might view Medicaid as a supplement for the poor, the reality is private insurance is unlikely to cover most people through long-term nursing home care. About a third of people turning 65 today will eventually reside in a nursing home. A full three-fourths of long-term nursing home patients rely on Medicaid after personal savings runs out.

As Iowa addresses issues with its Medicaid providers, and Congress considers what comes next for the future of the program, elected officials in all states and federal government must look at the looming Alzheimer’s tsunami and begin to make preparations. Support for Alzheimer’s cure research should be a top priority. Providing a safety net for those who will fall to this devastating disease is something lawmakers must address as well.


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