The population is aging, and as more people move closer to retirement and beyond, the importance of planning for long-term care has never been more important. Unfortunately, it is often a topic that is underestimated at best, and avoided at worst.
There are 78 million baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), which translates to a retirement rate of 10,000 people each day. Many of these baby boomers understand the importance of planning for retirement, offering investment options such as 401(k)s, IRAs and CDs, to name a few. But too often, planning for and investing in long-term care is overlooked, and that can lead to disastrous results for your nest egg. The cost of long-term care is trending upward, due to both a general increase in demand as well as a reduction in federal support.
To share a few numbers: Total healthcare spending in the U.S. made up more than 17% of our gross domestic product. That adds up to more than three trillion dollars per year spent on healthcare. In addition, since 1996 the December to December price increase outside of healthcare has averaged 2.2%, while the price increase for medical care has averaged 3.6%.
Understandably, many Americans are not confident that they will ever be able to save enough to allow for the level of care they could someday require, or they are underestimating just how costly it can be. But this is no reason to turn a blind eye or hope that the need for extended care will not apply to you or your loved ones. In fact, about 70% of all people aged 65 and older will need extra care at some point, according to a recent study from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Financial planners, consultants and other experts are strongly advising people to seriously consider the fact that they will need some level of care at some point in their later years, and they need to plan accordingly. While it may feel a little grim to plan for the needs that growing older brings with it, that’s no excuse to ignore its importance and put off actively planning for it. Saving for long-term healthcare should be included with the other investment strategies as you save for your general retirement. This can include purchasing long-term health insurance, designation more of your assets to go towards your health care needs, or setting aside home equity to pay for care. Some investment companies are even adjusting their financial modeling, adding as much as 20% to the figures they’ve been using. Having more accessible cash in your savings is important as well.
It’s also important to remember that the necessary legal documents should be in place; wills, advance medical directives, a durable power of attorney (which names someone to make legal and financial decisions in the event that you cannot do it for yourself) and a health care proxy (which gives someone the authority to make medical decisions) are some of the documents that you should make sure you review and have in place.
So now that you know how important it is to save for long-term care, let’s look more closely at what you are actually saving for. In other words, what are the options for long-term care, and how do you decide what is best for you? And what kind of costs do these options carry with them? According to the Genworth 2017 Cost of Care Survey, nursing homes and home care prices are rising the most quickly. Here are a few of numbers from the recent study:
Of the many long-term options, the popularity of in-home care is increasing. Likely due to the concerns of nursing homes and other types of assisted living settings, an estimated 77% of the aging population would prefer to stay in the comfort of their own home. In fact, many aging homeowners are retrofitting their existing homes, making changes to ensure that they can live comfortably, safely, and as independently as possible.
This growing trend, called “aging in place,” enables an individual to remain in his or her own home for as long as possible, creating modifications to the home itself or utilizing in-home services to meet the aging individual’s evolving needs. Some examples of these modifications can be as simple as installing a grab bar in the bathroom, raising the level of electrical outlets, or moving the master bedroom to the first floor, and can get as extensive as adding an addition to provide for a future live-in caregiver. Learning to make modifications to the in aesthetically pleasing way makes a big difference as well when it comes to general comfort and quality of life as well, enabling the elderly to be surrounded by the home they know rather than feeling that they have to turn their house into a hospital.
The concept of aging in place has become incredibly popular. The National Association of Home Builders even offers a course to give formal training on how to build or modify a home to make it more accessible for the less-mobile, how to use technology to make the home safer and even provide training on how to work with aging individuals who are experiencing declining mobility, physical abilities, and cognitive functioning. The importance and relevance of learning about aging in place transcends the construction industry; occupational therapists, physical therapists, gerontological specialists, nurses, bankers and realtors have also gotten involved to understand the trend learn about the options that are out there for their clients, patients and even their own families.
So what is the responsibility of those in the healthcare industry as it relates to long-term planning? Educate, educate, educate. Take the initiative to help ensure the aging population knows how important it is to plan for the inevitable fact that as they grow older their needs will change, and it is their responsibility to plan for the ability to accommodate for those changes in a manner that suits them and their idea of how they want to live out their lives. Provide resources to explain what options are out there, such as aging in place or hiring other levels of in-home care services. Offer solutions to help them take action toward planning for long-term care by offering workshops, providing educational literature, or leaning on your referral network put the right people in touch with each other to help put plan into action.
The journey of planning for retirement and beyond is a complex one, and understanding the growing need—and subsequent cost—of long-term care can make the process even more daunting. But taking the time to seek out the many resources that are available and putting a plan together will have invaluable results when it comes to having the means to live out your life with the level and quality of care you envision.