A new survey by MetLife Inc., New York, finds the average cost of a private room in a nursing home varies sharply across the United States.[@@]

Nationwide, the average rate in 2004 was $192 a day, or $70,080 per year. But rates ranged from a high of $561 per day or $204,765 per year in Alaska to a low of $99 a day or $36,135 per year in Shreveport, La., according to the survey, released by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, Westport, Conn.

With federal data showing an average length of stay in a nursing home at 2.4 years, that translates into a total average cost of over $168,000, MetLife notes.

Costs for receiving care at home were also wide ranging,. The average hourly cost for a home health care aide was $18 per hour nationally but varied from $28 per hour in Hartford to $13 per hour in Shreveport, La., and Jackson, Miss.

A 2003 study by MetLife found an average daily rate for a private room of $181 per day or $66,065 annually, while the hourly rate for a home health aide was at the same $18 level MetLife found in 2004. MetLife cautions, however, that figures for 2003 may not be directly comparable to the latest findings due to changes in the study’s data-gathering techniques.

The high costs of long term care show that Americans must prepare for their retirement not just by assessing their asset and income requirements but also by planning for the possibility that they will need help with day-to-day living, says Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

“Unanticipated long term care costs can derail an individual’s financial plan,” Timmermann warns.

Experts on long term care cite a number of reasons for the wide ranging costs but observe that much of it boils down to the price of real estate.

To a large extent, price variations are strictly a demand issue, says Ken Szee of Hamilton Insurance Agency, Fairfax Va..

“There’s not a big choice of nursing homes in Alaska,” he points out.

The survey of nursing homes and home care agencies was conducted in July and August in all 50 states and the District of Columbia by LifePlans Inc., Waltham, Mass.

The average daily nursing home cost for a private room

Atlanta

$151

Boise, Idaho

$175

Boston

$284

Chicago

$136

Cincinnati

$189

Denver

$172

Des Moines, Iowa

$209

Detroit

$149

Fort Wayne, Ind.

$170

Hartford

$277

Honolulu

$227

Miami

$193

Milwaukee

$195

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.

$221

New York

$312

Philadelphia

$226

San Francisco Area

$293

St. Louis, Mo.

$131

Washington

$260

Wichita, Kans.

$142

MetLife Mature Market Institute, Westport, Conn.