It's a productivity issue, employee benefits issue and social policy issue. And it's one more workplace risk.
Anyone with parents over 70 knows the problem. I learned it dealing with my 78-year-old father, who is suffering from congestive heart failure and diabetes. With assisted-living residences charging up to $5,000 per month, nursing homes $6,000 or more, quality long-term care is only for those who are wealthy or planned ahead.
I learned that Medicare covers no assisted-living services and only a limited amount of residential skilled nursing. Only some Medicare supplement policies extend to at-home recovery services like physical therapy.
What are employers doing about this? Not much. With a declining number of employers providing retiree medical coverage, few retirees have benefits to pay these costs. Some employers provide dependent-care referrals as part of an Employee Assistance Program or health-advocacy service, but these referrals are no substitute for personal research.
My employer's referral service, which is not based in my home city, located three assisted-living locations in the Chicago-area. I drive by more senior residences on my way to work.
A few EAPs are beefing up their referrals, however. For example, a new product from EAP provider Workplace Options Inc. shows promise.
Its CareCoach service provides a care coach who organizes a teleconference with family members and other caregivers. The coach explains options, presents an action plan and builds consensus amongst family members. When consensus is reached, the coach coordinates the care plan and ensures issue resolution and ongoing communication.
"For the primary caregiver, there is often more stress associated with communicating and negotiating care between family members than there is in actually delivering that care," says Alan King, CEO of Workplace Options.
Some employers provide long-term-care insurance for executives, says John Ruggiero, senior vice president in the wealth management division of USI Holdings Corporation in Chicago, usually a minimum level with a buy-up provision, and may allow them to purchase insurance for dependents. But few do because premiums for seniors are sky-high.
Many employers offer rank-and-file employees individual coverage with a payroll deduction. The insurance is generally purchased for periods of coverage--one to five years or unlimited long-term care, and limits of $100 to $200 a residential day, adjusted for inflation.
Ruggiero says boomers are showing more interest now that they realize the peace of mind the insurance buys for their own family, but the knowledge comes too late for their own parents.
Can boomers and employers expect help from government? In April, the White House Conference on Aging Mini-Conference on Long-Term Care recommended that Congress and the Bush administration should launch a national long-term-care education program and, as policy, provide long-term-care coverage for all Americans.
A good start, when and if Congress acts on these recommendations, but for me and my father, and most boomers and their parents, it's all too little and way too late.
LEN STRAZEWSKI, a professor and benefits expert, is the benefits columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
December 1, 2005
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