Happy Senior African American Couple on the Beach

Baby Boomers are one of the largest generations in American history. Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, number about 71.6 million in the US as of 2019. The age wave theory suggests that there was an economic slowdown when the boomers started to retire in 2007-2009. Many did not experience lower levels of poverty and therefore feel like they are economically fine for the rest of their life. The Boomers have a longer life expectancy than previous generations, but also contract many illnesses that require help or caregiving. Therefore, this help alone will require unexpected expenses.  

We all see ourselves staying as healthy as possible as we get older. The truth is that 70 percent of us who reach the age of 65 will need some form of care or services in our lives, for an average of three years. Research shows that 43 percent of Americans over the age of 55 have less than $25,000 saved for retirement. Today nursing home care cost an average of $89,297 a year for a semi-private room.  Assistance at home, such as a visit from a home health aide cost approximately $24,800 a year. Clearly, one’s savings could disappear very quickly.

If we look at other sources of funds for these long-term care services, only short-term rehabilitative care at home or in a nursing home are covered by Medicare. Additionally, for Medicare to even pay for these types of care, we must meet certain conditions.

Medicaid is the nation’s primary funder of personal care and supportive services, paying for about half of all services provided. However, should we need care; the only way to qualify is to spend nearly all of our assets. The nest egg we have worked hard all our life to build must be spent to qualify for help. Clearly, a better system of care will ensure that Americans can age with dignity and independence in the place we call home.

Several years ago, AARP did a poll of 1,000 Americans and found one in five never thought about it or did not know where they would receive long-term care if they needed it. Just seven percent of the spending for personal care and supportive services comes from private long-term care insurance. This is because less than 10 percent of adults actually have purchased a policy.  According to experts, few people purchase it because it is expensive, rates have historically increased rapidly, and potential buyers can be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.  

Today, more than 12 million Americans rely on long-term care services and supports, with 58 percent of those individuals over the age of 65. By 2050, it is predicted that this number will more than double, with 27 million Americans relying upon long-term services and supports. America needs a comprehensive system in place that will support our needs as we grow older. In 2010, spending on supportive services for adults age 65 and older was estimated to be $182 billion, and projected to increase to $684 billion by 2050. Such projections threaten both state and federal budgets, as well as each elder’s budget.  Nevertheless, little has been done in the past 40 years to address this problem and create a healthy network of supports and services allowing Americans to age with dignity in our own homes.

The federal health reform law created during the Obama administration created a number of opportunities to help older people and adults with disabilities remain in their homes and communities.  It includes programs to help states provide more in-home care to low-income adults in need and ways to help those living in nursing homes to return to their homes and communities. However, the home and community-based services (HCBS) that provide those needed services now in Nevada have 780 frail elders on a wait list for 145 days and 270 disabled on a wait list for 200 days before they could receive any services. Additional funding needs to be directed to these services so more people can be served and less people on the wait list and become more ill or die.

What we can do as individuals, particularly at early ages is to have a healthy diet balanced with physical activity, meaningful relationships, and regular checkups by our health care provider. This can be the best means of preventing future health problems. For those facing chronic illness, it is important to develop an effective self-management program with our loved ones and secure a caretaker that builds confidence in our ability to manage our condition and maintain an active and fulfilling life. We also need to have very tough discussions with our loved ones today about what is important to us as we grow older and how we will get services and supports should we need help in the future.

Understanding the realities of what services, we might need as we age, what’s available, how to find them, and how to pay for them allows us to be better prepared for tomorrow. Also, in addition to what currently exists, learn more about what is being done to ensure that as Americans age, a healthy network of services and supports are available to provide all the different levels of care that may be needed. Listen to the politicians and watch what they do so we can help make informed decisions as to what can be done to help our own healthy aging! What better way to add life to years?