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Can You Afford Long-Term Care?

'Own Your Future' initiative urges Minnesotans to plan ahead

Caregiver Ruth Strom-McCutcheon photographed outside her home in Duluth, Minnesota

Ruth Strom-McCutcheon’s 93-year-old mother purchased a long-term care policy nearly 20 years ago. AARP Minnesota and the state want other residents to plan how they will pay for such care as they age. Photo by Darin Back

Sometimes, after visiting her 93-year-old mother at her assisted-living facility in Minneapolis, Ruth Strom-McCutcheon cries for much of the three-hour drive home to Duluth.

"The sadness you feel about your mother getting dementia is overwhelming," she said.

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But Strom-McCutcheon, 62, acknowledges there is one bright spot — she doesn't have to worry about paying for her mother's care. At 75, her mother took out a long-term care policy to help pay for a stay at the assisted-living facility of her choice.

This fall, Minnesota followed 26 other states in urging residents to plan how they will pay for long-term care, the way Strom-McCutcheon's mother did.

The "Own Your Future" education initiative, cosponsored by the federal government, describes various ways to cover long-term care costs, whether it's through savings, a long-term care insurance policy or alternative financing options.

Not covered by Medicare

About 11 percent of Minnesotans ages 65 to 84 require long-term care at some point; after 85, that figure rises to 55 percent, according to the state Department of Human Services (DHS).

Neither Medicare nor health insurance will pick up the tab; rather, Medicaid (called "Medical Assistance" in Minnesota) kicks in to pay expenses only after an individual uses up his or her own assets.

On average, a Minnesotan pays $67,000 a year for nursing home care, $20,000 for home health care and $40,000 for assisted living, according to DHS.

By 2032, the number of Minnesotans older than 65 will nearly double, while the rest of the population is projected to grow only 6 percent. Yet when boomers were asked in a 2010 state survey how they would pay for long-term care services, roughly a third said they had no idea, said LaRhae Knatterud, state director of aging transformation.

Unless more older people privately finance their long-term care, they may simply overwhelm the state's public programs, said Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon (D).

In September, Prettner Solon and Gov. Mark Dayton (D) mailed a letter to Minnesota residents ages 40 to 65 directing them to educational materials on the Own Your Future website. The state has placed online ads on long-term care planning websites and sponsored public-service announcements urging families to discuss long-term care options. Prettner Solon also sent letters to employers and community leaders asking for help in spreading the word about the program.

Next year, AARP Minnesota will encourage its 670,000 members to learn about Own Your Future, using direct mail, tele-town hall meetings, email and social media.

"If enough people save or purchase long-term care insurance, they reduce costs to the system, the government and taxpayers," said Michele Kimball, AARP Minnesota state director and executive director of the Own Your Future Advisory Panel.

Now is the time to plan

Prettner Solon wants constituents to realize that not planning means having fewer choices and less control in the final years of life, because not all facilities accept Medical Assistance. "You're at the mercy of the system once all your resources are used up, and you may not end up where you want to be," she said.

Prettner Solon shares her own story about long-term care planning on the Own Your Future website. Like many people, she bought long-term care insurance and set up a living trust only after her husband died without a plan 11 years ago.

"I don't think you're ever too young," she said. "It gives you peace of mind."

The state is working to develop more affordable long-term care options for people who don't qualify for public programs yet can't afford to finance their own long-term care, according to Knatterud. It's also evaluating possible changes to the state's Medical Assistance program to better align with and encourage private payment for long-term care.

Strom-McCutcheon has already done her long-term care plan.

"Because of my mom, my husband and I are really proactive," she said. "We talk about end of life, and we've got that written down. We both have long-term care insurance."

Mary Van Beusekom is a writer living in Excelsior, Minn.

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