Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006


by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.

Printable version of this story

SAN DIEGO -- As a geriatric nurse care manager, one of the most important things I do is help people deal with realities they'd rather ignore. That one will soon be facing old age, debilitation and dependence is not something most people want to give any more than a passing thought. It is one pachyderm in the living room they will deny even as it overwhelms them.

Surprisingly, a few of my elder charges don't consider themselves "old," even at 80. One of the things that goes along with denial of most any sort is a gaggle of insulating myths. I can't resist saying this; in the case of aging and its associated dependence, such mythology is good for neither goose nor gander. Aid and abet these fine-feathered fictions and they will, in fact, make sure your proverbial goose is cooked beyond recognition.

One of the biggest myths regarding old age is that someone else will pay for long-term care when it's necessary.

Many are the times I've heard a distressed elder or family member say, "I thought insurance would cover it." After their assets are depleted by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills they discover the ugly truth.

According to the Health Insurance Association of America, "Neither Medicare nor private Medicare supplemental insurance nor the health insurance you may have will pay for long-term care." This is borne out by my personal experience of nearly 25 years in geriatric nursing. No insurance pays for what is deemed by all insurance companies across the board as "custodial care."

And make no mistake about it, "custodial care" (simple help with activities of daily living) is exactly what most of the frail elderly need.

The fact of the matter is that Medicare only covers skilled nursing home charges for only the most acute phase of illness (up to 20 days after hospitalization) -- after which you are on your own. Home care covered by insurance policies is even spottier and more time-limited.

Because most of the elderly do not face their sure need to eventually need help to either stay at home or have skilled nursing care around the clock in a senior facility, whatever assets they have worked hard for all their lives will be sucked up by a senior care company that is only too happy to accept their money.

According to last years "Consumer Guide to Senior Health Care," typical nursing home costs, depending on geographic area, can range from $30,000 to $80,000 a year. One long-term care research company estimates that by 2007, a private room in a nursing center will be over $250 per day, or an annual cost of $94,000.

The current national average is nearing $40,000 annually, and so it is easy to see that most seniors' assets will be gone in a very short period of time when needing extended nursing care. According to one article in the Wall Street Journal, "70% of all single people admitted to a nursing home go broke within three months; 50% of all couples are impoverished within six months after one spouse is admitted."

In this case insurance companies selling long-term care policies that will enable the elderly to get the care they need in a facility or at home while protecting their hard-earned life savings come out looking like the good guys. Many people are afraid that the premiums for such long-term care policies are too high, but where their life savings are involved their ignorance is not bliss, and their skepticism is not wisdom.

Consider this:

  • 1 of 1,200 individuals will use their fire insurance policy;
  • 1 of 240 individuals will use their auto insurance;
  • 1 of 3 will use their long-term care policy.

    Compared to what their nearest nursing home will take out of their accounts after Medicare is finished with the 20-day coverage, or the astronomical costs of private-pay home care, the pain of paying premiums on a long-term care policy will be the difference between a bottle rocket falling on the roof and a fire destroying the entire house.

    Since the passage of the Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Care bill, which assures Americans that that long-term care insurance premiums are tax-deductible, even the government is sending a strong message to the swelling tide of aging healthcare consumers: "If you want any choice at all in the matter, you are responsible for your own long-term care."

    Cindy Hasz is a nurse and writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at cyn1113@aol.com.

    Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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