Long-Term Health Care Being Ignored By Many Seniors

Older Americans aren't planning ahead, according to a survey on long-term health care needs.

While about half of people over the age of 40 polled in the survey think our aging population will need long-term care, very few are planning for it themselves. The survey was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The number of seniors is expected to nearly double as the baby boomer population ages. In 2030, seniors could make up 19 percent of the U.S. population. Long-term health care needs include nursing homes, assisted living facilities and home health care aides. On average, seniors will need this type of care for three years.

The nationwide poll interviewed 1,019 Americans age 40 or older. The survey found more than half answered they were fearful of losing their independence as they age. And most expected family members to step in to cover costs, even though 6 in 10 haven't talked to their relatives about it.

"It's rather surprising," Jennifer Agiesta, director of polling for the Associated Press told PBS. "Very few people have arranged to pay for or even to think about their own needs. Most haven't even taken the basic step of talking to family members about their preferences."

Only 44 percent of those polled said they were somewhat worried about health care in old age and a mere 35 percent are saving for it. Often, seniors underestimated the cost of nursing homes and were all over the map with the pricing of a home health aide. Many simply thought Medicare would pick up the slack.

However, Medicare only pays for "medically necessary care in a skilled nursing facility" and will only pay for a home health aide for a limited time, according to the report.  Nearly seven in 10 people were confident they could just rely on family members "a great deal" in a time of need.

One of the main misconceptions among baby boomers is that many think their peers will likely need long-term care but don't think they'll need it themselves.

"As they approach this age and this stage of life, people should be thinking more critically about what they're going to need. Because it's probably not that different than what everybody else is going to need," Agiesta told PBS.

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