The man given the task of deciding how social care in England should be funded says the status quo "is not an option".
Andrew Dilnot, chair of the Commission for the Funding of Care and Support, told the BBC there was a political consensus that change was needed.
The independent commission was set up by the coalition government earlier this year and has until July 2011 to draw up its recommendations.
The government has promised action during the course of this Parliament.
How to fund long term care for the elderly has proved one of the most intractable political issues of recent years and the commission has been charged with coming up with a workable and affordable blueprint for a future framework.
"It would simply be too embarrassing to have something like this fail again," Mr Dilnot told Radio 4's You & Yours programme as part of the BBC's Care in the UK season of programmes.
"As long as we do a decent job we're confident that politicians across the whole spectrum will get behind this and do what the population as a whole wants to be done."
Although he and his fellow commissioners would have to work "jolly hard" to meet their July 2011 deadline to report to government, he said he would not shy away from tough decisions.
"It is certainly the case that there are some things we could say that would not be politically popular".
"If we were to come up with something that we felt was absolutely incontrovertibly the best way forward, but would not be politically popular to begin with, I think we'd have the confidence, that if we were convinced it was the only way forward, we might be able to persuade politicians and the public that it was the right way forward."
In 1999 a royal commission on long term care for the elderly recommended free care for all, but the then Labour government rejected its findings as unaffordable.
Labour explored a number of options for reform before the 2010 general election but the three largest parties failed to reach agreement on how to proceed.
Cross party talks broke down in March after the Conservatives launched a poster campaign claiming Labour was planning a £20,000 death tax to fund a National Care Service.
Labour peer Lord Lipsey, who sat on the 1999 Commission and authored a minority report advocating an alternative system, agreed reform was needed but said he was less confident of it actually happening.
"The worry has to be that unless we get some sort of consensus as a society as to the way forward it will become the default option and that would be bad for older people and bad for society," he told the same programme.
A system of insurance could be the way forward, he added, but only in conjunction with some state funding.
"The risk that people will go on living longer and longer and requiring care for ever and ever as it were will have to fall on the state - you cannot expect private companies to pick that up.
"Private companies, however, can pick up the basic risk on the basis of the best possible projections of how long people will require care for.
"They can then come up with reasonable sort of premiums out of which they can make a profit and more important people can be sure that care will be paid for."