Perhaps more than any other item, the thing that many Americans neglect when it comes to retirement planning is long-term care. And yet, for an estimated 12 million Americans and rising, that is the thing they most need as they journey through their retirement years.
With that in mind, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging recently held a special hearing on “The Future of Long-Term Care Policy: Continuing the Conversation.” Participating were Committee Chairman Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Tim Scott (R-SC).
Senator Nelson opened the hearing by stating that “long-term care is an issue that comes up repeatedly. It is an issue that many of us not only have a legislative interest in, but a personal stake, as well. Many of us have spoken in prior hearings about caring for our parents as well as planning for our own futures to alleviate some of the decisions for our children.”
Nelson said that most traditional health insurance plans and Medicare do not cover long-term care expenses. Private insurance is available, but it is expensive, and most Americans don’t carry such insurance because they don’t anticipate needing it.
As a result, more than half of long-term care provided in this country is by family caregivers, Nelson said. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the value of that care to be approximately $234 billion annually.
“Despite these enormous costs, most Americans have done little or nothing to prepare for their future long-term care needs, according to a recent study from the SCAN Foundation,” Nelson said. The situation will only get worse as more Americans become older Americans, Nelson stressed, and as older Americans continue to live longer each year.
“So, our current system of providing long-term care is unsustainable for both the government and for families,” Nelson warned. “CBO predicts that expenditures for long-term care are likely to increase from 1.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to as much as 3.3 percent by 2050.”
Echoing both the social and financial warning of long-term care impacts was Senator Susan Collins, who serves as Senate co-chair on the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Long-term care is the major catastrophic health expense faced by older Americans today, and these costs will only increase as our nation ages,” Senator Collins said. “Americans 85 and older, our so-called oldest old, are the fastest growing segment of our population, and this is the very population that is most at risk of the multiple and interacting health problems that can lead to disability and a need for long-term care.”
Collins said that there are currently estimated to be seven available family care givers per person over 80 in this country. But due to declining birth rates, by the year 2030 that number will drop to four caregivers per person over 80.
One obvious immediate need is to recruit and retain “a robust and competent long-term care workforce,” Senator Collins noted.
But more importantly, Americans today need to be encouraged to think about and prepare for their own long-term care needs, Senator Collins advised.