John O'Connor

I must admit a weakness for the movie Groundhog Day. The film tends to pop up with alarming regularity on cable TV around this time of year. And every time I catch a glimpse of it while channel surfing, I’m pretty much hooked for the duration.

For the dozen or so people left in this nation who’ve yet to see it, it’s a story about an egocentric weatherman (played by Bill Murray) who gets caught up in a time loop while covering an annual Groundhog Day celebration. As each day repeats itself, the weatherman turns increasingly to hedonism, then creative attempts at suicide. Finally — **spoiler alert!** — he confronts what’s wrong with the way he has been living his life, which, as they say, sets him free.

I was reminded of this cinema classic when reading that yet another think tank is being put together to consider improvements for our nation’s long-term care system.

Sounds good on paper. And I suppose there’s no real harm here, unless you find fool’s errands wasteful. For if there’s one thing we’ve seen about these panels, it’s this: Their work rarely succeeds in improving either services or payments.

If they did, similar efforting by the Pepper Commission in the 1990s and last year’s Congressionally approved panel would be more than door stops by now.

With all due respect to the various experts who have been and continue to be put on these esteemed panels, the problem with long-term care is not that hard to describe. It essentially boils down to two shortcomings: adequate service and payment options.

There are actually some fairly sophisticated political and economic reasons why both knots have been so difficult to untie. And hindrances facing both appear fairly well dug in. That’s partly why the recommendations from previously-compiled reports almost invariably read like well-intentioned but naïve wish lists. And why they tend to be routinely ignored.

For all his shortcomings, at least the weatherman in Groundhog Day eventually wises up. If only the people who create these panels would learn to do the same.