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LTCI Watch: Roommates

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What would I do if I had a magic wand and could make the members of the Federal Commission on Long-Term Care do my bidding

One thought: Maybe they should get Netflix to reshape the way Americans think about housing in old age by creating a new, binge-watchable version of “The Golden Girls.” Maybe, for extra credit, they could get J.J. Abrams to do a reboot for movie theaters.

“Soylent Green” is, among other things, probably the world’s most depressing movie about what it might be like to have a roommate when you’re old.

“The Golden Girls” may be one of the happiest shows about what it could be like to move into a house with three other older people in your later years.

Of course, some people have always had roommates in their senior years. Naomi had Ruth, for example.

But one challenge of helping people age in a cost-efficient, independence-preserving fashion in our society is that, for decades, advice givers told members of the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation and the Baby Boom generation to try to live on their own.

I don’t remember whether Helen Gurley Brown wrote anything much about sex in “Sex and the Single Girl,” but what I do remember is that she advised the single girls of 1962 to do whatever they could do get their own apartments.

Today, the idea of a frail widow living alone in a big, empty house is a cliche. One of the points of buying private, long-term care insurance (LTCI) seems to be the idea that it can help aging widows and widowers keep their homes. 

Maybe it would be helpful if private LTCI carriers and government agencies joined to promote the idea that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with older people having roommates.

Having bad roommate relationships can lead to fights and stress, but having good roommate relationships can dramatically decrease housing expenses; create a small pool of intimates who really know how you’re doing; provide a buffer against the loss of the ability to perform activities of daily living, such as some loss of the ability to walk or to get into a wheelchair without help; and decrease the per-person cost of delivering home care services, if two or more people who need home care are roommates in the same home.

It might be interesting to see if having roommates provides some of the same kind of protection against entering a nursing home that having a spouse does.

If it does, maybe (in that future age, when the LTCI market is doing better) LTCI carriers could support such arrangements by offering discounts for insureds with roommates.

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