A recent article by Time Magazine covered the financial struggles millions of aging Americans face trying to figure out how to pay for the long term in the future. Unfortunately, our nation’s health care system does not seem to have an effective way for our elders to pay for long-term health care, including residency in a nursing home or hiring an in-home health aid worker.
Although we all expect to live long, happy, and healthy lives, the truth is that most of us will eventually end up needing specialized long term health care that neither private insurance nor Medicare will cover. The average cost of a year’s stay in a nursing home can be upwards of $80,000, a figure that leaves only the very wealthy and the very poor (thanks to Medicaid) able to afford.
All tolled, an estimated 47% of men and 58% of women who are retirement age or older will experience a need for long-term care in the future, according to a February 2016 study by the Department of Health and Human Services. As if the financial burden of paying for necessary medical care was not enough, the county’s healthcare system is simply not equipped to handle the coming wave of tens of millions of Baby Boomers approaching old age.
Security nets like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security were created during a very different time in American history, one where the life expectancy was as low as 61-years old and during a time when older Americans did not survive acute medical conditions. Today, the life expectancy is closer to 80-years old and many patients survive adverse medical events like heart attack and stroke but may end up needing a lifetime of care.
By 2050, spending on long term health care needs is expected to balloon from 1.3 percent of GDP to 3 percent and our system simply has not adapted to societal changes. Furthermore, almost one in three non-retired Americans have no savings for when they get older, meaning they will likely need to rely on Medicaid to pay for nursing home or in-home care.
As the burden of providing vital medical care to millions of people takes its toll on the system and as lawmakers eye cuts to entitlement programs, Americans may one day wake up to find there is no longer a safety net protecting the most vulnerable members of our society. In the meantime, folks need to plan for their futures and take care of their health to give himself the best chance of living happily and comfortably in their golden years.