Even though Stu Ervay thought he was financially prepared for it, the experience of obtaining long-term care for his wife when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease only made a tragic situation worse.
A retired university professor who lives in Kansas, Ervay had bought long-term care insurance for himself and his wife at a young enough age that the premiums were low. But when it was time to cash it in, the policy didn’t cover such things as the stair lift that she needed or home health aides. And when she finally had to be moved into a long-term care facility, he found he was responsible for the first three months out of his own pocket.
“I had to dig deep to pay for that,” he says.
Still, their insurance covered much of the rest of his wife’s four years in long-term care before she died, and Ervay considers his financial situation fortunate compared to that of people who have only Medicaid to fall back on — assuming they meet the strict income requirements. If they can’t, “I don’t know what they do, frankly.”
So exasperating was finding long-term care — an undertaking only getting tougher as prices rise and options narrow — that Ervay has drawn from his academic career to suggest a small solution: a “lifespan planning” course that would be required for everyone as early as when they’re in their 20s.
Even as it becomes more complicated, few Americans plan for the eventuality of long-term care in their retirement, don’t understand their choices and underestimate its cost.
Earlier preparation needed
“What we need to do is to prepare young people right at the outset,” says Ervay, who also wrote a book about his experience, Confronting Dementia: A Husband’s Journey as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver. “ The time to start preparing for this kind of thing is when you’re in your 20s, not when you’re in your 60s.”
That kind of planning has always been important. But it’s become imperative as prices for at-home care spiral and people remain mistrustful of nursing homes, which saw disproportionately high infection and mortality rates from COVID-19. Meanwhile, the pandemic and subsequent inflation have made it harder for Americans to set money aside for at-home care, or forced them to dip into what they’d already managed to save.
Many people underestimate the likelihood that they will ever need such care. And there remains widespread confusion about how they might pay for it if they do.
Even among those who planned ahead, like Ervay, 78 percent said they should have started planning sooner, according to a survey by the insurance and financial advising company Genworth Financial.