By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The majority of East Hawaii’s elderly fear they won’t be able to afford long-term care when they need it, according to the results of a new survey.
It’s a hard fact of modern life: Even some of the most independent seniors eventually find that they need a helping hand, said AARP spokesman Bruce Bottorff.
“They reach an age where they need help with some of the basic activities of daily living,” he said. “Dressing themselves, bathing, cooking their own meals, cleaning their own homes. These are the kinds of things that fall away as physical and cognitive abilities diminish.”
But, he said, the costs associated with providing such care are high, and getting higher every day — especially for seniors in Hawaii, and even more so for those living on the Neighbor Isles.
For instance, senior citizens who choose to live in a private nursing home pay a median rate of about $147,000 a year outside of Oahu, compared to a statewide average of $126,000, according to the Genworth 2012 Cost of Care Survey. Meanwhile, home health-aid services providing licensed care can cost seniors across the state about $57,000 a year.
Of the more than 100 Hilo senior participants in an AARP survey released Friday, 68 percent said they were not confident that they could afford the costs of long-term care associated with a one-year stay in a nursing home. Meanwhile, 52 percent said they could not afford long-term care costs associated with staying in their own homes.
By comparison, 66 percent of elderly respondents in Kona said they believed they could not foot the bill to spend a year or more on long-term care in a nursing home, while 49 percent said the same of such a stay in their own homes.
Bottorff says that the survey’s results can be looked at in both a positive and a negative light. While the responses show that there is growing concern among the elderly in Hawaii about growing old with security, it’s good to see that they are better informed about the issue.
“At the beginning of 2012, the Long-Term Care Commission delivered a report that stimulated a lot of our continuing work,” he said. “Basically, it said that Hawaii’s long-term care system is broken, since most people can’t afford the costs. No. 2, it said that most people don’t have a clear sense of just how daunting a hit it’s going to be on their security.”
Interestingly, while 77 percent of Hilo respondents said that they did not want to depend upon family or friends for their long-term care needs, 59 percent said they were not planning or saving for their own long-term care, while 46 percent said they expect family or friends will take care of them if they end up needing long-term care.
“There is this disconnect between the desire not to burden family members with care, and the reality of who’s going to end up caring for you,” Bottorff said. “Certainly in Hawaii, there’s a predisposition for people to want to care for aging parents and grandparents. But, the challenge will be as we put more and more responsibility on unpaid family caregivers, it’s an unsustainable course. They burn out, they get stressed over the physical and emotional toll of caring for a loved one.”
In an attempt to confront the costs of long-term care, the AARP is asking the state Legislature to fund a study that would look into the feasibility of setting up a mandatory public long-term care insurance program in Hawaii. It wouldn’t help those who have already retired, but it would be in place for the monumental numbers of residents who are getting ready to retire, Bottorff said.
“An AARP study found that, according to Census data, there were approximately 206,000 people over the age of 65 in Hawaii in 2012,” he said. “That number will increase by 61 percent to 331,000 by the year 2032, only 17 years from now. That’s how big that older population will be.”
Senate Bill 104, which is currently being discussed by legislators, requests $380,000 to fund a study to explore the long-term care insurance program. It passed hearings in the Human Services and Commerce and Consumer Protection committees on Jan. 31, and is expected to next go before the Senate’s Ways and Means committee.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.