WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions of families are beginning to grapple with the one major health expense for which most Americans are not insured: long-term care.
About 10 million seniors currently rely on others for daily care, such as help getting dressed, preparing meals or taking medication. That number will only increase as more of the nation’s 78 million baby boomers enter old age. Nearly 7 in 10 people will need some form of long-term care after turning 65, according to the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute.
“Nobody wants to go to a nursing home, it’s the last resort,” says James Firman, president of the National Council on Aging. “People want to stay in their own home, and if they can’t, they want to go to a place where they can get assistance but that still feels homelike.”
Nursing homes are the most intensive form of long-term care, including round-the-clock medical supervision. That level of care comes with a steep price tag: the average cost of a semi-private room last year was $81,000, according to a survey by insurance provider MetLife. A private room ran more than $90,500.
Fortunately most seniors won’t require extended nursing home care. Only 5 percent will need five years or more in a nursing home.
Less intensive alternatives include home-care services that offer help with meals and household chores, and boarding houses where a small number of seniors live with on-site caretakers. But like nursing homes, these services aren’t covered by Medicare, the government’s health care plan for seniors, or private health insurance.
“The issue is that these are long-term costs and almost all of it comes out of pocket,” says John Migliaccio, director of research for Metlife’s Mature Market Institute. “It’s important to have some idea about what it will cost dad, mom or your husband to get the care they need.”
Insurance policies for long-term care are available, but only about 5 percent of U.S. adults have them. Most families don’t plan for long-term care because often the need comes unexpectedly: an elder takes a bad fall or suffers a stroke. Cost is another issue, because policies can run $1,000 to $8,000 a year, depending on the seniors’ age, health and other factors.
“The people who can really afford long-term care insurance often have enough fixed income that they don’t really need it,” says Bradley Frigon, vice president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
Groups like the National Association for Professional Geriatric Care Managers recommend that families discuss various options for long-term care and how to pay for them — before they become necessary.
“Once you’re already sick that’s not the time to start changing doctors, moving to a new place and depending on your kids,” says Bunni Dybins, a senior care adviser with LivHome in Los Angeles.