Why Long Term Care Is Such An Important Issue For All Americans

If you ask the average person on the street what long term care is, you would most likely get a lot of conflicting answers and many of them wouldn't even be close to being correct. In my conversations with folks about the subject, I have had people tell me that they thought long term care was when you have a disability, or that it referred to an extended hospital stay, or physical therapy and rehabilitation after surgery, along with many other similar responses. Many folks also believe that long term care is covered by health insurance and/or Medicare.

The point is that the average American does not truly understand either the risks or complexity of long term care issues, and that is a shame because it will affect us all in one or another in the next few years.

So what is long term care anyway? Basically it is custodial care that is provided for someone when they need assistance with activities of daily living such as eating, bathing, dressing, transferring, toileting and continence. This could be as a result of illness, an unexpected accident, a cognitive disorder such as Alzheimers, or just plain aging.

So what pays for long term care? Well, if the custodial care is not being provided in conjunction with skilled care performed by medical personnel, there are only a few options for paying for services rendered. They are (1) your own savings, (2) Medicare, (3) Medicaid, (4) long term care insurance. Interestingly, neither health insurance nor Medicare is designed to cover costs for long term care services over an extended period, and Medicaid will only pay for services after you have exhausted your own funds and are impoverished.

Who usually receives long term care? The bulk of services are received by seniors over 65 and the chances of needing this kind of care increases dramatically as a person reaches their seventies and eighties. However, an important point that is often overlooked is that 40% of long term care is received by folks under 65 each year. This is because of accidents, illnesses such as Parkinsons, strokes, and so forth that affect younger people as well as seniors.

How expensive is long term care? That all depends on where it is received. If received in a nursing home, it can cost $70,000 a year and more in many places. The vast majority of care though is provided in the home by informal caregivers made up of friends and family. This can be less expensive financially, but the emotional and physical toll of such care being provided by folks who are just doing the best that they can under very difficult circumstances while still trying to carry on their own lives is often devastating. The facts are that home and community-based care along with nursing home care represent the largest out-of-pocket expenses facing seniors today.

Why is this an issue that Americans need to learn more about? The need for long term care is already placing a heavy strain on the country's financial resources today, but in a few years the "baby boomer" generation will be retiring and will become the "senior boomer" generation instead. This will overwhelm the current system beyond any capacity to cope. The huge number of seniors being cared for by a much smaller number of their children, coupled with the fact that few seniors today are preparing for their own care creates a recipe for serious trouble. Any help provided by government sources will be either produced by much higher taxes on the working class or by cutting back the benefits for care received, which will only create even more stress and strain for informal caregivers.

I invite you to learn all that you can about this vital issue and do your part to take steps to avoid the long term care crisis that is currently looming in America's future.