Americans are living longer than ever before. At the turn of the 20th century, the average life expectancy was about 47 years. As we enter the 21st century life expectancy has almost doubled. As a result, we face more challenges and transitions in our lives than those who came before us.
One of the most difficult transitions people face is the change from independent living in their own home or apartment to living in a long term care facility or “nursing home.” There are many reasons why this transition is so difficult. One is the loss of a home…a home where the person lived for many years with a lifetime of memories. Another is the loss of independence. Still another is the loss of the level of privacy we enjoy at home, since nursing home living is often shared with a roommate.
Most people who make the decision to move to a nursing home do so during a time of great stress. Some have been hospitalized after a stroke, some have fallen and broken a hip, still others have progressive dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease, and can no longer be cared for in their own homes.
Whatever the reason, the spouse or relative who helps a person transition into a nursing home during a time of stress faces the immediate dilemma of how to find the right nursing home. The task is no small one, and a huge sigh of relief can be heard when the right home is found and the loved one is moved into the nursing home. For many, the most difficult task is just beginning: How to cope with nursing home bills that may total $10,000 per month or more?
One of the things that concerns people most about nursing home care is how to pay for that care. There are basically five ways that you can pay the cost of a nursing home:
1. Long Term Care Insurance – If you are fortunate enough to have this type of coverage, it may go a long way toward paying the cost of the nursing home. Unfortunately, long term, care insurance has only started to become popular in the last few years and most people facing a nursing home stay do not have this coverage.
2. Pay with Your Funds – This is the method many people are required to use first. Quite simply, it means paying for the cost of a nursing home out of your own pocket. Unfortunately, with nursing home bills averaging $10,000 per month in our area, few people can afford a long term stay in a nursing home.
3. Veterans Administration – The United States Veterans Administration operates over 100 nursing facilities. Nursing home care is provided without cost to Veterans with service-connected disabilities. For other Veterans there are eligibility factors, including an income limit. The New Jersey Veterans Administration operates 3 homes for New Jersey Veterans and their families. Eligibility requirements vary for Veterans, their spouses and parents.
4. Medicare – This is the national health insurance program primarily for people 65 years of age and older, certain younger disabled people, and people with kidney failure. Medicare provides short term assistance with nursing home costs, but only if you meet the strict qualification rules.
5. Medicaid – This is a federal and state funded and state administered medical benefit program which can pay for the cost of the nursing home if certain asset and income tests are met.
The first two methods of private pay (i.e. using your own funds) and long term care insurance are self-explanatory and the third method is only available to a small segment of the population. Next month I will discuss further the Medicare and Medicaid options.