A Woman's Guide to Long-Term Care

Planning for retirement requires early and thoughtful planning. Accumulating assets during your working years is crucial to maintain a comfortable lifestyle after you leave the workforce. But have you thought about how you will manage and protect those assets from the unexpected costs of long-term care services?

Long-term care is the assistance provided when a person can not perform activities of daily living due to a cognitive impairment like Alzheimer's, age, illness, or injury. Care can range from a provider coming into your home to help with chores to skilled, around-the-clock care in a nursing home. It may be hard to imagine yourself needing such help, but consider the following:

  • Nearly two out of three current nursing home residents are women. 
  • Women are more likely to need a nursing home after age 65 and more likely to have a longer length of stay.
  • Elderly women living alone are less likely to have a family caregiver, and therefore have a greater need for additional financial resources to cover long-term care costs in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
High Risk, High Cost

Not only is there high risk associated with long-term care, there is high cost. Currently, a private room for one year in a nursing home averages $92,378 and can be considerably higher depending on where you live. In 30 years, it is expected to exceed $224,226 a year.

Most women cannot save enough to cover these costs on their own. And contrary to popular belief, health insurance and Medicare generally do not pay for long-term care services. Medicare provides skilled care only for a short time following hospitalization. Middle-income individuals may qualify for long-term care under Medicaid, but only after they've exhausted their hard-earned savings.

Note: In states with long-term care partnership programs, benefits paid to long-term care insurance policyholders are eligible as an “asset disregard” under Medicaid’s eligibility requirements. For example, if you receive long-term care benefits totaling $150,000 and must apply for Medicaid, you will be allowed to keep $150,000 of your assets and not have to “spend down” the $150,000 to be eligible for Medicaid.

About Long-Term Care Insurance

A solution for some women may be long-term care insurance. It can cover the costs of long-term care services and protect lifetime savings. It also gives you the dignity of choice by covering a range of services in a variety of settings. Long-term care insurance enables you to maintain financial independence throughout your lifetime, alleviating the financial burden that might otherwise impoverish your spouse or children if they had to take time away from the workforce to care for you or had to subsidize your care.

What Women Should Know

Long-term care insurance may not be the right choice for you if you are of limited means or might quickly qualify for Medicaid. To determine whether this type of insurance is right for you, talk to your life insurance agent or financial advisor. Consider your financial circumstances and all funding options available. Alternatives such as a reverse mortgage or paying out-of-pocket may make the most sense in your situation.

Purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance

If you decide to purchase long-term care insurance, the age at which you purchase a policy affects its cost--the younger you are, the lower the premiums. However, even though premiums are generally higher for people who buy at older ages, the cost of premiums is still less than the cost of care.

Long-term care insurance is available on an individual basis or through a group plan offered by an employer. More and more employers--including the U.S. federal government--offer long-term care insurance to employees as a voluntary benefit. It can also be combined with an annuity or life insurance policy--providing you with increased financial flexibility to meet your changing needs during retirement.

Sources: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Nursing Home Data Compendium, 2015; Genworth 2016 Cost of Care Survey