Relevance of Long-Term Care
Long-term care typically refers to services provided to the elderly to assist with everyday life. About half of long-term care patients require assistance for more than one year, and those that do require an average of 3.9 years of care.
The affordability of elder care is particularly relevant as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Roughly 70% of people over the age of 65 will require some form of long-term care, and the number of individuals in this age group continues to grow in the United States. By 2030, there will be about 71 million Americans aged 65 and older, constituting 20% of the U.S. population.
Costs of Long-Term Care
Most Americans could accurately guess that long-term care is expensive. Nonetheless, more than a third of Americans over the age of 40 have not done any planning regarding long-term care needs. While people tend to overestimate exactly how much long-term care will actually cost, prices have nevertheless risen substantially over the years for facility care. In-home care rates have stayed somewhat more consistent due to the competition among agencies, the availability of unskilled labor, and the lack of costs associated with maintaining facilities.
Arkansas has some of the most affordable long-term care in the nation, with the median annual costs in various cities almost always falling below the national number. However, even here, costs have increased with time, and they can vary considerably based on area in the state. For instance, for a one-bedroom spot in an assisted living facility, the Hot Springs area often charges around $48,000 per year while the Fort Smith area has a median of roughly half that, $24,900.
As mentioned, costs for at-home care have stayed more consistent over the years and are often charged at hourly rates of about $17-21 per hour. Nonetheless, their costs also fluctuate due to factors such as time of day: home care “visits” (2-4 hour blocks of time) often cost more in the evenings or on weekends or holidays.
Another more flexible and affordable option for some families is adult day services, in which the care recipient goes to the facility during the day and returns home at night. These are often charged at a per-day rate but prices may fluctuate if there are additional activities.
When most people think of long-term care, however, they probably think of nursing homes. The annual cost of a private nursing home room can appear staggering. The national median annual cost is almost $100,000 a year ($92,378). It is lower in Arkansas, but the numbers remain jarring to most: $75,100 per year for Little Rock, $73,000 for Hot Springs, $62,050 for Fayetteville, and $60,225 for Pine Bluff. For a Little Rock resident, then, this would equate to over $6200 a month. (It is perhaps worth noting that the Little Rock per capita income is $23,209 a year or less than $2000 a month. That is, a private nursing home room costs more than three times what a resident may make in a given year.)
Considering Long-Term Care Options
Given the high costs of long-term care, particularly residential care (e.g. assisted living facilities, nursing homes), it is important that individuals plan for these possibilities, however uncomfortable it may seem to do so. Many consumers don’t realize that Medicare rarely covers long-term nursing home or home care. Nearly half of all long-term care in the U.S. is paid using Medicaid, which may become an increasing financial problem. Even Medicaid often requires that long-term care recipients spend nearly all their assets before the program will cover long-term care costs.
Again, these realities highlight the importance of planning for long-term care as a very real possibility, especially for the older generations. Though creating a care plan can be intimidating, many people find help through guides such as longtermcare.gov or by consulting an attorney.