Most of us first learn about long-term care at the worst possible time - when we or a loved one needs care now. That's when we learn that long-term care is expensive and health insurance, Medi-care and disability coverage do not pay for most services. State Medicaid programs cover some long-term care services, but only for people who have a very low income and few resources. The result is that most of us who need long-term care end up paying for some or all of our care out of our own pockets.
By waiting until you are faced with an immediate need for services, your options could be limited by a lack of information or insufficient resources to pay for the services you would prefer. Planning ahead for future needs means you will have a range of options and more choices in the care you receive, with less impact on your bank account.
Some steps in planning for your future include:
Make a financial plan -Creating a financial plan now can help to preserve both your savings and your peace of mind. While costs for nursing home care vary widely, they average about $6,350 a month. This can cost approximately $60,000 to $70,000 a year, or more in 2008 dollars. People who receive long-term care services at home spend an average of $1,600 a month.
Give clear directions -Do your family members know your preferences regarding long-term care? Put your wishes in writing, just in case you cannot speak for yourself or lose the ability to make decisions for yourself. Vital documents such as a living will, durable power-of-attorney for health care or health care proxy give you peace of mind and make sure your wishes are followed.
Seek a support system - Talk to someone who can help you make decisions before you need services. Sometimes family members or friends can help. For others, volunteers or agencies can provide assistance. Your area agency on aging, church, doctor or local social service agency can also help you find out what services are available at no or low cost.
Focus on your home - How can your home be modified to accommodate your needs as your age? Homes that are easy to live in at age 50 can present problems later in life. Some improvements can be inexpensive, like removing scatter rugs or replacing doorknobs. Bigger changes may include adding railings to outside steps or adding a bathroom to the ground floor. Most home modifications will not only make your home safer for you, but also actually increase its value.
Consider long-term care insurance - These policies can help pay for many types of long-term care, but they are not for everyone. Compare the costs and benefits of policies from different insurance companies when shopping. If you decide to buy, make sure you work with a reliable company that is licensed by your state to sell long-term care insurance.
Your area agency on aging can provide information about the services available in your area. Call 1-866-243-5678 to be connected to the agency serving your community.
The Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program (OSHIIP) helps older Ohioans better understand and use the various insurance policies, health services, programs and benefits available. Call the statewide hotline at 1-800-686-1578 to talk to an OSHIIP counselor.
This spring, the Ohio Departments of Aging, Insurance and Job and Family Services will partner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to bring the national Own Your Future campaign to Ohio. The campaign will include public service announcements, a targeted direct-mail campaign and regional forums. The cornerstone of the campaign, a free, Ohio-specific long-term care planning guide, and other resources are available at www.longtermcare.gov.
While no one can predict the future, planning for the future is an important first step to achieving peace of mind and maintaining control over your own life.