Gambling with your long-term care

Published 3:05 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A 48-year-old father of two is left with permanent injuries after an auto accident. A 66-year-old recent retiree suffers a serious stroke. An otherwise healthy 75-year-old grandfather falls and breaks his hip.

These people have one thing in common. Quite unexpectedly, they’re each likely to need some form of long-term care, through nursing care at home, in a nursing home or at an assisted living facility.

The odds are good that many Americans will find themselves in a similar situation, as estimates by the Health Insurance Association of America indicate that more than 70 percent of people older than age 65 will need some form of long-term care.

But a Roper survey recently released by the American Society on Aging (ASA) and funded by State Farm shows that most Americans are willing to try to beat those odds because so few have done anything to prepare for the high cost of long-term care.

“Long-term care may not be a subject people like to talk about, but it’s something every family should discuss and plan for,” said ASA’s Jim Emerman. “The need for long-term care can arise so suddenly that unless we’re financially prepared, it can rob a family of its assets and its financial future.”

With government data placing the average cost of nursing home care at $56,000 a year, failing to plan can be a costly gamble. According to the Roper study, two-thirds of Americans 45 years of age and over say it’s very important they have enough money to be able to choose the setting in which they’ll get long-term care if they need it. But only 37 percent say they’ve been able to put aside money for this purpose and only 17 percent have purchased long-term care insurance specifically designed to cover it.

Americans need to protect themselves by making sure they insulate themselves from the costs of long-term care. Long-term care insurance is one of the most important components of a family’s financial plan.