Down to Earth

The kick-off keynote speaker at a recent long term care insurer convention was Captain Mark Kelly. Kelly, a NASA astronaut, is perhaps best known for being the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is slowly recovering from a gunshot wound to her head. It was inflicted during a ‘meet the constituents’ event at a supermarket in her district, in January 2011.

The convention was The Intercompany Long Term Care Insurance Conference, held in late March in Colorado Springs. Kelly spoke frankly of his career, and also frankly of the real challenges a couple faces when one of them needs long term care.

While expressing his gratefulness for the professional caregivers who attend to his wife, he expressed frustration regarding their intrusion into the couple’s private life. Little things one wouldn’t normally consider make a big difference. In the morning – he explained – he needs to get ready in a different bathroom than Gabby and her caregiver. He needs to bring his clothes to another room to get dressed for work. Even while expressing gratitude for the care, he described how the life that they had as a couple before the accident was very different than the life they need now.

He described how difficult it was for him to make the decision to return not only to work, but to space. Thinking of his wife and family and he wondered whether to return to one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. His wife had always encouraged him in his career, and so he decided that it was important for him to return. When, during audience Q&A, he was asked what he hopes his legacy will be, he thought for a moment, and then replied that he wanted to be remembered as being a good husband.

One might wonder how the couple pays for the extensive long term care Giffords receives? Captain Kelly explained that, since Gabby was injured on the job, she receives her long term care through workers’ compensation. One can’t help but wonder how their lives and finances would be different if her injuries had been the result of a stroke (Kelly explained that her left side remains paralyzed), or an accident not tied to work.

Most of us do plan for retirement, when we are able to stop working and live off what we have put aside. However, most people stop there, not considering how to fund the possible long term care need that often arrives in our 80s or even 90s…but, like Giffords, disability can rear it’s difficult head at any age, from a variety of causes.

If living with a long term care need is difficult for an astronaut and a Congresswoman, with the benefit of funding, imagine how difficult it could be for ourselves or a family member, without benefit of funding. Peace of mind – knowing that we can take care of ourselves and our family – is a hard thing on which to put a price tag. However, for many of us, the price of peace of mind is as low as a long term care insurance premium. After all, we’ve taken care of virtually every other risk, haven’t we?