What Women Need to Know about Long-term Healthcare

August 3, 2018

The fact we’re all living longer means we’ll have more time to relax and enjoy retirement, right? Let’s hope so. But greater life expectancy can unfortunately carry with it a higher risk for chronic health problems that can present ongoing issues. The fact is that nearly 70% of us who make it to 65 will need long-term healthcare; for women, the statistics are even higher. Because they live on average five years longer than men, women 65 and older needing long-term care will require it for an average of 3.7 years, while the male average is only 2.2 years.

What is long-term healthcare?

Long-term care generally means professional assistance with Activities of Daily Life (ADL) deficits that can result from a lengthy illness. This can include help with dressing and changing; incontinence; bathing; eating, and taking medications. Long-term care can be administered in the home, hospital, or in a senior care community. While costs range widely and are based on a number of factors, they can end up being the most costly aspect of retirement years, often running into the six figures.

What do women need to know to be prepared for this expense?

Along with living longer than their male counterparts, women on average earn less than men and are less likely to have a retirement plan. This doesn’t have to be the case! If you’re a woman researching the issue or tackling it for a parent, here are some key considerations to help craft a plan that works:

  1. Consider Long-term Health Insurance. Many of us think we can rely on Medicare or Medicaid to pick up these expenses. But Medicare only covers a fraction of services; and in order to qualify for Medicaid, you have to have basically depleted your resources – not a good option. Long-term health insurance, whose yearly costs vary but average around $2000, can end up providing full coverage where Medicare leaves off. Timing is everything, though, in terms of qualifying for coverage. Over 50% of applicants 50-59 are able to get coverage; this number drops down to 24% at age 70.
  2. Do Your Homework. Like any insurance coverage, not all long-term policies are the same. Make sure your policy has an inflation rider to cover rising healthcare costs, and one that adjusts each year – some only offer riders that kick in every three years or so, which can fall short. Make sure, too, that your policy covers care both in-home and in-facility. And if you’re too young to qualify for a policy, your employer may be able to close the gap – ask your HR department.
  3. Involve Your Family. When it comes to having frank conversations about such matters, women are statistically less comfortable with the topic than their male counterparts. According to a recent study, 31% of women reported feeling nervous or anxious talking about long-term care, while 40% of the men surveyed expressed no reservations about discussing it. This attitude needs to change, especially considering the fact that women are more likely to outlive male spouses. Remember that your preferences and wishes will most likely affect your family members, and it’s important to involve them well before issues crop up.

We’ve only scratched the surface of this complex topic; for more helpful info, head to the US Department of Health and Human Services website.