Other’s Opinion: Aging: Long-term care challenges growing

Published 5:44 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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Mankato Free Press. June 16

A few decades ago, experts predicted the “silver tsunami” of an aging U.S. population that was going to need enormous resources for their long term care. The silver tsunami is not only here, it appears to be coming in tidal wave after tidal wave.

An in-depth Free Press series published in May showed a number of critical circumstances creating a near crisis in caring for the aging population: The care workforce is in short supply, care facilities are at capacity or under staffed and there’s plenty of financial risk, if not financial disaster, to families looking to care for their loved ones.

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Even long-term care insurance can be a difficult and expensive solution. A recent report in the Star Tribune showed long-term care insurers on the ropes in Minnesota, with many under financial strain and unable to offer affordable policies or any at all.

All solutions are expensive. The state of Minnesota put $300 million into the state’s nursing homes last year and still some are failing or unable to maintain operation because they cannot get workers.

The series showed that while half of the aging population will need some form of long-term care, only a small percentage are planning for it.

Demand for long-term care workers is expected to increase by about 42% in the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of home health care workers and personal car attendants will increase by 800,000 in the next 10 years, but it won’t be enough. That’s in part because wages are low at about $33,000 a year.

Most people don’t know that Medicare does not pay for long-term care, only some short-term care. So Medicaid is the program of last resort when people have depleted their savings. Medicaid covers about 50% of the $400 billion in long-term care costs in the U.S. annually, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Caring for a loved one can be financially devastating to families. Paying $100,000 a year for nursing home care depletes family resources quickly and federal law requires families or nursing home residents to spend down their assets to as little as $2,000, not including their home, to qualify for Medicaid.

Experts like Howard Bedlin, a long-term care expert with the National Council on Aging, see trouble on the horizon.

“With baby boomers getting older, the need for long-term care services will only be getting greater,” Bedlin said. “So we’ve got a real crisis on our hands.”

Congress has done little, if anything, to address the problem, although at least one state, Washington, has imposed a 0.58% payroll tax to help cover long-term care costs of its residents.

The problem will not get easier to solve. It seems some “public good” policy would be in order to help families pay these costs or at least provide informational and other resources to help families deal with the care of their loved ones.