The recent article from MarketWatch, “This is how much long-term care could cost you, and don’t expect Medicare to help,” reports that most people over 65 will eventually need help with daily living tasks, like bathing, eating, or dressing. Men will need assistance for an average of 2.2 years, and women will need it for 3.7 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging.
Many will rely on unpaid care from spouses or children, but over a third will spend time in a nursing home, where the median annual cost of a private room is now more than $100,000, according to insurer Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care Survey. Four out of ten will choose paid care at home; the median annual cost of a home health aide is more than $50,000. Finally, more than 50% of people over 65 will incur long-term care costs, and 15% will incur more than $250,000 in costs, according to a study by Vanguard Research and Mercer Health and Benefits.
Note that Medicare and private health insurance typically don’t cover these “custodial” expenses. This means that such costs can quickly deplete the $126,000 median retirement savings for people age 65 to 74. People who exhaust their savings could wind up on Medicaid, the government health program for the indigent that pays for about half of all nursing home and custodial care.
People who live alone, are in poor health, or who have a family history of chronic conditions are more likely to require long-term care. Women face special risks, since they typically outlive their husbands and, as a result, may not have anyone to provide them with unpaid care. If husbands require paid care that erases all of the couple’s savings, women could have years or even decades of living on nothing but Social Security.
The earlier you start planning, the more choice and control you’ll have. Let’s look at some of the options:
Long-term care insurance. The average annual premium for a 55-year-old couple was $3,050 in 2019, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. Premiums are higher for older people, and those with chronic conditions might not be eligible. Policies typically cover part of long-term care costs for a defined period, like three years.
Hybrid long-term care insurance. With life insurance or annuities with long-term care benefits, money that isn’t used for long-term care can be left to your heirs. These products typically require you to commit large sums or are paid in installments over 5 to 10 years, although some now have “lifetime pay” options.
Home equity. People who move permanently into a nursing home may be able to sell their houses to help fund the care. Reverse mortgages may be an option, if one member of a couple remains in the home. This type of loan lets them use their home equity. However, it must be repaid if the owners die, sold, or they must move out.
Contingency reserve. People with a great deal of investments could plan on using some of those assets for long-term care. Their investments can produce income, until there’s a need for long-term care, and then can be sold to pay for a nursing home or home health aide.
Medicaid spend-down. Those who don’t have much saved or who face a catastrophic long-term care cost that cleans out their entire savings, could wind up applying for Medicaid. Ask an elder law attorney about ways to protect, at least some assets for your spouse.