Some people fail to plan for long-term care because they feel it either won't happen to them or, if it does, their family can help since it won't last very long. New research shows the fallacy of that thinking and the consequences family caregivers face when there is no advance plan in place to address long-term health care.
New University of Alberta research indicates that the workload for family caregivers can last a decade or more. The study debunks the myth that being a family caregiver is an easy endeavor that doesn't last very long, according to lead researcher Janet Fast, a family economist in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.
"Caregivers often give up a lot. Providing care to a family member or friend with a chronic health condition, disability, or aging-related need can go on for just a few years for some caregivers, while it can span several decades for others. Caregiving is not typically viewed as what can be a very emotional and challenging period of time," Fast said.
Don’t Depend on the Government for Your Future Care
People require long-term care services and support services due to an illness, accident, or the consequences of aging. Often people are unaware that health insurance will not pay for most long-term care services. Government paid care is available in Canada for those who qualify and in the United States with the Medicaid program. Medicaid requires a person to have little or no income and assets to qualify for long-term care benefits.
Many Canadians assume that government health care will pay for long-term care services. The fact is that only a small amount is actually covered, and many don't qualify at all.
In both the United States and Canada, Long-Term Care Insurance is available. Policies will pay for a person's choice of care either in their home or in a facility. However, these policies are medically underwritten, so you can't obtain coverage when you need care. You must obtain coverage when you still enjoy good health, generally in your 40s or 50s.
Family Crisis Without Advance Planning
However, many families face a crisis when their loved ones failed to plan for the financial costs and burdens of aging. When no plan is in place, the caregiver's role typically falls on a spouse or adult children, often a daughter or daughter-in-law. The caregiver must juggle this role with their job and other family responsibilities. These family members are not usually prepared or trained for this role.
Even if financial resources are available to purchase paid care services, family members are not off the hook. They often must fill-in the gaps and manage the plan of care.
There were several groups of caregivers identified in the study. The most common group was named "compressed generational." In this group, over half of caregivers started their role as caregivers at age 63 on average. The shortest duration of care was four years. These family caregivers were usually taking care of a spouse or parent. The study shows 13% of these caregivers had a second stint of caregiving.
The second most common group was identified as "broad generational care." These caregivers started their duties in their early 50s and frequently involved more than one care episode — typically caring for parents, partners, or sometimes friends; it lasted roughly 14 years.
"Typically, they'd spend the last 15 years of their career working full-time, maybe at their peak earning years leading up to retirement," said Fast.
"The challenge is they're often also caring for multiple parents at the same time, making it impossible to balance paid work and caregiving," she explained.
Additionally, a group of "career care" describes people in their early 30s who find themselves looking after close family members for 30 or more years — often children with disabilities, but also parents or partners with chronic or mental health conditions.
And a fifth group, "serial care," has the role of caregiving going on for 30 years, and it has the highest number of care episodes and the most overlap of caring for more than one person at a time. Most of these caregivers — 71% — were female, "the kind-hearted woman who helps everybody," adds study co-author Jacquie Eales.
Many of these family caregivers are forced to retire early or are forced out of their jobs because they can't perform well under the physical and emotional burden placed on them.
Long-Term Care Insurance Eases Stress on Family and Finances
While the study didn't review those with Long-Term Care Insurance when they need care, other research shows these affordable policies help families by providing the tax-free resources to pay for their choice of quality care at home or in a facility. These benefits ease the burden otherwise placed on the family.
According to research from America's Health Insurance Plans, almost eight in 10 claimants (78 percent) found filing a claim to be easy. Nearly nine in 10 individuals had no problem knowing what their policy covered, and for the few who did, many turned to their insurance company or their agent to clarify coverage questions.
Roughly three in four claimants indicated that if they did not have Long-Term Care Insurance, they would receive less care; 64 percent indicated that they could not pay for care at their current care levels without insurance.
About two in three claimants said they would have to rely on their family and others to make up the care gap if they did not have their Long-Term Care Insurance benefits. These benefits gave them the ability to pay for professional care services. Nearly half of individuals indicated that they would not be able to receive care in their current setting without their LTC Insurance, often at home.
LTC Policies are Working
The vast majority of claimants (93%) say that the benefits paid by their policy are sufficient to meet their current care needs. These benefits allow their family the time to be family and not be forced into the role of being a caregiver. In 2020, over $11.6 billion in benefits were paid by LTC Insurance to American families by the major insurance companies.
Experts say the best time to purchase LTC Insurance is prior to retirement, ideally in your 40s or 50s, when you still enjoy reasonably good health.
However, premiums can vary over 100% between insurance companies, so be sure to work with a qualified and experienced Long-Term Care Insurance specialist. The specialist will navigate the underwriting and policy design options to not over-purchase benefits and spend too much money.
If you need care, having a policy will reduce the stress on both your family and finances. Without a policy, you create a crisis for your family and create financial pressure as well.
About the Author
An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.
Contributor since August 21st, 2017
The problem of long-term care is both a cash flow issue and a family issue. Preparing your family and finances for the financial costs and burdens associated with long-term health care is key to enjoying a successful future retirement.
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