Long-Term Care: The Elephant in the Room

Long-term care is a real concern facing America today.  Individuals live longer and are facing more chronic illnesses requiring constant care.   Yet untrained and unpaid family members provide most long-term care for their loved ones.  A recent article published Reuters revealed that four out of ten adults are caring for an elderly family member.  It is something we all can relate to.  We all know someone that will likely be in need of our care in the near future; our grandparents and even some of our parents may already be in need of this care.

Caring for an elderly family member has large social and financial costs for individuals and for society.  Many Americans take time off work or even leave their jobs to provide care.  A Metlife study estimated the aggregate cost of caring for elderly family members from lost wages, pensions, and other benefits totaled nearly $3 trillion.  This is a huge cost to society and reduces total productivity in the nation.  Caring for the elderly is also a significant social burden for caregivers.  There is added stress from taking care of a loved one and seeing them suffer causes emotional strain.

This is a real issue that needs to be addressed now, not when we need care or need to care for individuals.  The cost of long-term care is very high.  The daily cost of a nursing home averages between $214 and $239, with the yearly total approaching nearly $100,000.   According to National Institute on Aging(NIA) the poorest quintile of elderly households’ net worth was $3,500, clearly not enough to cover their costs.

The largest concerns are the rising costs of, and dwindling funding for, long-term care.  Medicare and Medicaid fund much of long-term care for elderly placing a large burden on the federal budget.  Long-term care is a labor-intensive service – a reality that leads to low productivity and high labor costs.  It is inevitable that these costs will only continue to rise.  There are more and more elderly individuals that will need care in the future.  According the NIA, by 2030 one out of every five Americans will be elderly and nearly 80 percent of them have a chronic disease.

The question is what is the most efficient way to spend money on long-term care?  How can we guarantee efficient, low-cost, and high quality care?

This is a very difficult issue to address and fix.  There are so many political and ethical issues at stake.  Nonetheless this is an issue that must be addressed, and there must be a bi-partisan solution to provide care.  Whether that is through extending managed care or focusing more on delivery of care.  There must be a better way of providing care to control chronic diseases.  Although the cost of caring for those with chronic diseases is expensive, such costs are still significantly lower than hospital stays and medical procedures.  Through proper care, unnecessary hospital and emergency room visits can be prevented.