Seven of 10 elderly persons living alone face impoverishment within 13 weeks after they enter a nursing home because of the high cost of long-term care, according to a congressional report to be released today.
The report, prepared by the House Select Committee on Aging, says the risk of impoverishment is nearly as great for elderly couples after one spouse enters a nursing home as it is for the elderly who live alone.
And, "though home care is often a viable and preferred alternative to nursing home care, the risk of impoverishment remains great when extensive home care is needed," the report says.
"A host of personal catastrophes are in the making," said Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee that put together the report as part of its examination of the need for long-term care coverage for Americans of all ages.
At present, about 7 million people need long-term care, the committee estimated, but this is expected to grow to about 19 million by 2040.
Meanwhile, federal studies show that people ages 65 to 69 face a 5 percent risk of entering a nursing home in the next five years and a 43 percent risk of entering a nursing home during their lifetime.
At the heart of the new 31-page report is a detailed national and state analysis of how quickly the costs of nursing home care and extended home care can devastate the nation's 30 million elderly.
Roybal said the potential for impoverishment results from the absence of adequate long-term care protection for Americans at a time when nursing home costs average more than $22,000 a year and the elderly median annual income is just more than $11,500. Medicare does not cover most long-term care, and Medicaid kicks in only when a person has reached near total imporverishment.
Report findings show:
For single elderly living alone, seven in 10 find their income spent down to the federal poverty level after 13 weeks in a nursing home. When both income and financial assets are considered, nearly half of these elderly are impoverished after 13 weeks in a nursing home. Within a year, two-thirds of these elderly use up both their income and financial assets.
Based on income, more than 50 percent of married couples are impoverished after one spouse has spent six months in a nursing home. When both income and financial assets are considered, nearly half of the couples are impoverished after one year in a nursing home. This can leave the at-home spouse to face health and long-term care needs with no financial assets and only limited income.
For seven-day-a-week care, the cost -- based on Medicare's national average of $43 per day -- can exceed $15,000 a year. That would impoverish nearly 90 percent of the elderly living alone and two-thirds of elderly couples after one year, based on their income. When both income and assets are considered, more than 60 percent of the elderly living alone and about two-fifths of couples would be impoverished.
In analyzing the risk of impoverishment for the elderly in 37 of the largest states, the report found that the impact can vary by area.
The risk for elderly couples to be impoverished after 13 weeks in a nursing home ranges from 15 percent in Indiana to 59 percent in Mississippi when only the couple's income is considered, the report said.
The risk for the elderly living alone would range from 56 percent in South Dakota to 79 percent in Georgia, based on their income, the report said.
Neither Maryland nor the District of Columbia was included in the area comparisons.
In Virginia, the risk of impoverishment for the elderly living alone after six months in a nursing home was 78 percent.
Among 15 smaller states, the range was 70 percent in Montana to 96 percent in Louisiana for elderly living alone. The risk for couples ranged from 36 percent in North Carolina to 90 percent in Louisiana, with Virginia in between at 47 percent.