Millions of families are beginning to grapple with the one major health expense for which most Americans are not insured: long-term care.
Currently, about 10 million seniors rely on others for daily care. That number will increase as more baby boomers enter old age. Nearly 7 in 10 people will need some form of long-term care after turning 65, according to the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute.
Nursing homes, with round-the-clock medical supervision, come with a steep price tag: A semi-private room last year averaged $81,000, according to a survey by MetLife. A private room ran more than $90,500. Fortunately, most seniors won’t require extended nursing home care. Only 5 percent will need five years or more in a nursing home.
Less intensive alternatives include home-care services that offer help with meals and household chores and boarding houses where a small number of seniors live with on-site caretakers. But like nursing homes, these services aren’t covered by Medicare or private health insurance.
‘‘The issue is that these are long-term costs, and almost all of it comes out of pocket,’’ says John Migliaccio, at Metlife’s Mature Market Institute.
Insurance policies for long-term care are available, but only about 5 percent of US adults have them. Most families don’t plan for long-term care because often the need comes unexpectedly: An elder takes a bad fall or suffers a stroke. Cost is another issue; policies can run $1,000 to $8,000 a year, depending on the senior’s age, health, and other factors.
Here’s a quick look at some senior care services to consider:
■ Medical alert systems: Perhaps the cheapest and least intrusive option. Services like Philips Lifeline and Life Alert consist of a necklace or wristband with an emergency button that will call a dispatcher who has access to the senior’s profile and medical history. Depending on the situation he will call a neighbor, relative, or medical center. Services generally cost $30 to $50 a month.
■ Adult day care: It generally operates during business hours Monday through Friday, providing activities and meals. Perhaps most importantly, these facilities enable caregivers to go to work, run errands, or simply take a break.
The average rate last year was $70 a day, or $18,000 annually.
Licensing and certification requirements vary by state and county. More than 5,000 centers run programs across the country and can be found through groups like the National Adult Day Services Association.
■ Home visits: For seniors who want to stay in their homes, visiting services can provide assistance with everything from preparing meals to physical therapy.
The typical cost of a home care service last year was $20,800, at a rate of 20 hours per week. Most companies offer both homemaking services and medical assistance, which is usually billed at a higher rate.
National companies such as Visiting Angels and Home Instead generally cost more, but provide prescreening and background checks for all employees. Hiring a private caregiver can be less expensive, though you may have to do more work in terms of performing background checks and meeting tax requirements, since you are hiring them as an employee.
The government offers a site for locating elder care services in your area: www.eldercare.gov.