By Cyril Tuohy
It’s easy to blame inertia in Washington and partisan politics for the lack of action regarding long-term care, but as it turns out many Americans have their own reasons for postponing action about long-term care.
A new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs has found that Americans 40 years or older often underestimate the cost of long-term care and overestimate the role of Medicare to pay for long-term care.
Many Americans say they can count on their families to help them, but those receiving long-term care, or who have received it in the past, are less likely to believe they can rely on family to offer long-term care services, the survey also found.
Only 24 percent of respondents correctly estimated the monthly cost of a nursing home (up to $8,000 per month), 29 percent correctly estimated the monthly cost of an assisted-living facility (up to $4,000 per month), and 30 percent correctly estimated the cost of a part-time home health care aide (up to $2,000 per month), the survey found.
In addition, the survey of 1,019 Americans age 40 or older reveals a majority of respondents support some public policy options for financing long-term care.
The survey found that 33 percent of respondents would rather not think about getting older, but even among the 70 percent concerned about aging, many Americans have not translated those worries into effective planning strategies, the report said.
Misconceptions about the scope of long-term care and the preference to ignore or delay facing long-term care issues may help explain why policies have been pushed aside for so long, hence the need to dig more deeply into how Americans perceive their need for long-term care.
The AP-NORC survey, sponsored by the SCAN Foundation, is designed to contribute to public understanding and “inform the national dialogue surrounding long-term care issues,” according to the April report’s research highlights.
It was only a year ago that long-term care experts were looking to Washington policymakers to help revive the debate over long-term care and how to fund it.
A federal bipartisan commission held hearings on the state of the long-term care industry and dozens of experts testified lined up to testify about where the nation stood with regard to caring for Americans in need of long-term care.
Long-term caregivers and family members testified to the strain that providing long-term care exerts on families.
Public policy experts painted a picture of a neglected, fractured and underfunded U.S. long-term care system devoid of an overarching direction.
It was the first time lawmakers had convened a meeting of such broad scope on the long-term care issue in more than a generation.
The commission left out any discussion about how to finance long-term care, but several policy analysts testified that any viable long-term care program would be impossible without some sort of public funding.
Nearly a year after the commission presented its findings to Congress last September, no legislation has been introduced with regard to long-term care nor how to fund it.
Policy experts weren’t expecting much from the commission, not with the Supreme Court upholding the basis of health reform and companies and health groups gearing up to enact the most sweeping health care insurance reform in memory.
Still, the commission was able to produce a substantive document that commissioners said would service as the basis for future discussion on long-term care reform.
“It has put a lot of options on the table,” said Commissioner Christopher Jacobs, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
With an aging population, long-term care issues will loom ever larger for millions of American families.
The U.S. population over age 65 will nearly double by the time the last of the baby boomers turn 65 in 2029, according to government statistics.
In 2000, senior citizens comprised 12 percent of the U.S. population. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 19 percent or 72 million Americans over the age of 65.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 70 percent of Americans who reach the age of 65 will need some form of long-term care in their lives, and that the care they receive will last for an average of three years.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. He can be reached at [email protected].
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