Cost of Long-Term Health Care Has Many Turning to Medicaid

By Anna Gorman; Barbara Feder Ostrov | AZ Daily Star, August 7, 2016 | Go to article overview

Cost of Long-Term Health Care Has Many Turning to Medicaid


Anna Gorman; Barbara Feder Ostrov, AZ Daily Star


Donna Nickerson spent her last working years as the activity and social services director at a Turlock, California, nursing home.

But when she developed Alzheimer's disease and needed that kind of care herself, she and her husband couldn't afford it: A bed at a nearby home cost several thousand dollars a month.

"I'm not a wealthy man," said Nickerson's husband Mel, a retired California State University-Stanislaus professor. "There's no way I could pay for that."

Experts estimate that about half of all people turning 65 today will need daily help as they get older, either at home or in nursing homes. Such long-term care will cost an average of about $91,000 for men and double that for women, who live longer.

In California and across the U.S., many people can't afford that, so they turn to Medicaid, the nation's public health insurance program for low-income people. As a result, Medicaid has become the safety net for millions of people who are unable to pay for nursing home beds or in-home caregivers. That includes middle-class Americans, who often must spend down or transfer their assets to qualify for Medicaid coverage.

About 1.4 million people are in nursing homes nationwide, and about 62 percent of those beds are paid for by Medicaid.

Medicaid was never intended to cover long-term care for everyone. Now it pays for nearly 40 percent of the nation's long-term care expenses, and the share is growing. As baby boomers age, federal Medicaid spending on long-term care is widely expected to rise by nearly 50 percent by 2026.

The pressure will intensify as people age, so both state and federal officials are trying to control spending. State Medicaid directors are watching as long-term care spending takes up larger shares of their budgets and squeezes out other programs, said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

"There isn't a day that goes by they are not thinking about long- term care," Salo said. "It makes up a huge portion of the entire budget and it's growing. ... It is absolutely not sustainable."

In the meantime, people who need long-term care are depleting their savings or transferring their assets to others so they can qualify for Medicaid. …

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