Long-term care is an afterthought for many

The Sacramento BeeOctober 10, 2011 

Until the last five months of her late husband's long battle with a form of Parkinson's disease, Bernardine Ford cared for him in their Gold River home with the help of private in-home care providers. But after his disease progressed and his limbs stiffened painfully, she placed him in a small care home that cost $6,500 a month.

Their long-term care insurance policy covered it. In that sense, the Fords were lucky: They were prepared financially for the kind of health crisis that swamps many people's retirement years.

"I know people who have paid $8,000 a month out of pocket for care," said Ford, 67, a retired state worker who is active in local Parkinson's disease support groups. "If that's coming out of your retirement income, a lot of people can't afford it."

Most Californians aren't prepared for a future that requires expensive help if they're too ill to care for themselves.

Recent studies show that much of the aging public remains in denial about the potential need for long-term care, which could wreak financial havoc on the baby boom generation's retirement years.

"Baby boomers have parents lingering for years in long-term care facilities, and they still don't think they'll need long-term care themselves," said Steven Wallace, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. "Most people assume it won't happen to them."

But chances are, it will: According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 70 percent of people 65 and older will require some sort of long-term care, 40 percent of them in a nursing home setting.

That care isn't cheap. The average annual cost of California nursing homes is $72,000, but neither Medicare nor traditional medical insurance pay for that care. Medicaid covers skilled nursing home care for people with assets of $2,000 or less.

Unlike health plans and Medicare, long-term care insurance covers care for people who are unable to perform basic activities of daily living, such as walking without assistance and feeding themselves. The range of long-term care includes home health aides and private-duty nurses, as well as nursing homes, assisted-living centers, respite programs and dementia care homes.

To read the complete article, visit www.sacbee.com.

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