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Long Term Health Care: Is Private Insurance Right For You?

Health & Benefits

This article explains the ways health care can be used to benefit seniors.

Reproduced from material by the National Consumer Law Center.

Is Private Insurance Right For You?

It’s a task that few of us look forward to: arranging for help to be there if, as senior citizens, we are no longer able to care for ourselves. For 1.4 million seniors, that care comes in nursing homes where most residents have their bills paid by the government through the Medicaid program. For millions of others, that care comes from family members or paid providers, in homes or assisted living facilities.

Medicaid remains a crucial safety net for the most dependent seniors who require highlevel care in nursing facilities. However, Medicaid offers limited assistance to seniors who remain in their homes or require less intense care outside nursing facilities. Because long-term care can be expensive and because Medicaid and other government programs aren’t always available to pay for the type of care seniors choose or require, individual planning is important. A realistic and responsible plan may require arrangements in your family and community, judgments about your personal finances, and confronting your attitude toward public aid.

In some cases, a portion of the payments comes from a long-term care insurance policy sold by a private company. While private long-term care insurance has been widely promoted by the insurance industry and some government agencies, such insurance is expensive and suitable only for some people with substantial wealth. 

What Does It Cost?

If you are no longer able to live independently due to physical ills, a chronic disease or seriously declining mental capacity, you are likely to require care from a family member, a friend, or a paid service provider. Such care may be delivered at home, in the community, in an assisted living center, or in a nursing facility.

Paying for care can be quite expensive. Costs vary based on the location and the extent and nature of care provided. A 2007 survey by a long-term care insurer found that the average annual cost for a private room in a nursing home ranged from $46,600 in Arkansas to $185,200 in Alaska, while the average hourly rate for a home health aide ranged from $15.35 in Miami to $35.49 in Seattle. The duration of care also affects costs. Only about one in three seniors will stay for more than three months in a nursing facility. Fewer than one in 10 face a nursing home stay that lasts five years.

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