Planning for your future

By Suzanne Burke and Dr. Brad Wenstrup

You’re wide awake at 2am. By your father’s side in the hospital after hip replacement surgery, you wonder what will happen when he is discharged home.

Can your mother manage his care? When/if he can drive again? Can you take time away from work and family to help? Can your parents afford in-home care? What type of care would they want?

It’s a common scenario. Many families don’t think about long-term care until someone needs it. And that’s the worst possible time to make important decisions – your options are fewer and more costly. The reality is, 70 percent of us will need long-term care during our lives, but more than 90 percent of seniors have not discussed with their families how they will pay for care or what care options they would prefer.

When is the right time? It’s never too early, but long-term care should be a major component of your retirement plan. When you’re planning for retirement, you should consider important questions about long-term care:

· What type of care do I want and how will I pay for it?

· Can I get care in my home?

· What community resources are available for long-term care?

· What does Medicare cover?

Why is this important? Because our population is aging rapidly – by 2035 people age 65 and older will outnumber children under age 18 – and recent data suggest we aren’t saving enough to live on in retirement, let alone pay for long-term care needs. In a 2016 report, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that the median retirement account savings of working families age 32-61 was less than $20,000. It’s no wonder Social Security accounts for 35 percent of all income for people age 65 and older.

For many seniors, Social Security alone is not enough to live comfortably, nor is it enough to cover the costs of long-term care. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that without modification to the system, those born in the 1980s have a much lower chance of receiving 100 percent of their projected benefits.

Medicaid is another example. It is the largest source of funding for long-term care, yet it was never designed for this purpose. For people with limited retirement incomes and savings, one major – or a few minor – health care episodes can decimate their savings, forcing them onto Medicaid to access care.

As a result, the cost of Medicaid programs is growing faster than available tax revenues. In 2015, Ohio spent $7.2 billion on long-term care services, accounting for 35 percent of total Medicaid expenditures.

But we can work together to find solutions that will improve care while lowering costs. For example, in the last 10 years, Ohio rebalanced its Medicaid long-term care budget to focus on less costly home and community-based care options such as PASSPORT and the Assisted Living Waiver (vs. nursing home care). As a result, we’re helping more people remain independent in their homes as they age, at a lower cost.

Locally, Council on Aging (COA), the Area Agency on Aging for Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties, has developed innovative programs that improve outcomes as patients move from one care setting to another. These programs prevent unnecessary nursing home placements and hospital readmissions, and have saved taxpayers millions in unnecessary Medicare spending.

Individually, we must do what we can to plan for our futures. Take advantage of these resources to help you get started:

· Educate yourself. Start at longtermcare.acl.gov to access planning tools and learn about care options and costs. Or request an in-home consultation with an expert from your local Area Agency on Aging to learn about care options and local resources. Call 1-866-243-5678 to arrange a home visit.

· Make a long-term care plan for yourself or a loved one. Council on Aging is offering a free long-term care planning workshop in Loveland this fall. Called Own Your Future, the workshop offers a sales-free environment to learn from local experts about Medicare and Medicaid, care options and financial planning. COA even provides a kit to help you get started on your own plan. Learn more and register at www.help4seniors.org.

Explore financial options. Have a certified financial planner (CFP) evaluate your financial situation. Your CFP can make recommendations about strategies or products that may help increase your retirement reserves.

Create a lifestyle plan. There are many community programs to help you stay physically fit, manage a chronic illness or substance abuse disorder, or receive long-term care in your home. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for information.

The staff at Council on Aging and your congressional representative can help you navigate government programs and direct you to helpful resources. Please reach out to us if you need assistance.

Burke can be reached at (513) 721-1025 or http://www.help4seniors.org/.

Wenstrup is the Republican Representative for Ohio’s second congressional district.