Poll finds most Californians unprepared for costs of long-term care

April 21, 2010 By Gwen Driscoll

(PhysOrg.com) -- Fifty-eight percent of registered California voters age 40 and older feel unprepared to pay for services if they could no longer care for themselves and needed long-term care.

California voters, regardless of their political party affiliation or income level, are worried about and feel unprepared for the costs of long-term care, according to a new poll from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the SCAN Foundation.

Fifty-eight percent of registered California voters age 40 and older say they feel unprepared to pay for services if they could no longer care for themselves independently and needed long-term care.

Two-thirds — including majorities across political parties — say they are worried about long-term care costs, as are 75 percent of those who are currently providing help to family or friends and 74 percent those who anticipate providing help in the near future. Concern also spans all income levels, including 63 percent of those reporting annual incomes of $75,000 and above.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners and American Viewpoint, surveyed more than 1,200 registered California voters age 40 and older in English and Spanish about long-term care issues.

The poll sought to better understand long-term care issues facing mid-age and older voters, given that the number of older Californians is projected to nearly double to 8 million in the next 25 years.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at least 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 will need long-term care services at some point in their lives, and more than 40 percent will get care in a nursing home for even a short period of time.

Among other findings, California voters age 40 and older:

Cannot afford in-home care
Fifty-seven percent say they could not afford more than three months of in-home care. Currently, it costs about $1,700 a month in California to have a licensed aide provide part-time care to an individual in the home. One in three surveyed say they could not afford even one month of in-home care.

Cannot afford nursing home care
Sixty-six percent say they could not afford more than three months of nursing home care at an average cost of $6,000 per month in California, while 42 percent say they could not afford even one month of care.

Voice affordability concerns across party lines
Thirty-five percent of Republicans, 38 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents say they would not be able to pay for even one month of in-home personal care; 43 percent of Republicans, 48 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents say they could not afford even one month of nursing home care.

Rarely have long-term care insurance
Only 15 percent of those surveyed report having long-term care insurance.

Lack knowledge that Medicare doesn't cover long-term care services
Just 20 percent of those polled were aware that Medicare does not cover ongoing in-home personal care; similarly, only 30 percent knew that Medicare does not cover prolonged nursing home care.

Say long-term care should be a priority for state leaders
Nearly all respondents (95 percent) say they prefer having affordable care options in the community in order to avoid going to a nursing home. Sixty-six percent believe that ensuring affordable home- and community-based services should be a "high priority" for elected officials, including half or more of Republicans (50 percent), independents (66 percent) and Democrats (76 percent).

"Caring for a loved one is a nonpartisan issue that cuts across income levels," said Dr. Bruce Chernof, M.D., president and CEO of the SCAN Foundation. "Our goal is to increase awareness of the needs and options for accessible and affordable long-term care services that provide individuals support in the most appropriate setting possible."

In order to get help from the state for long-term care costs, individuals in California must spend down their assets to $2,000 and have a near-poverty income after paying for medical expenses. Of those polled, 67 percent said they are worried about spending all of their savings in order to get help paying for long-term care, and 65 percent say that this particular issue should be a high priority for elected officials.

"You shouldn’t have to go broke to get help," said Steven P. Wallace, Ph.D., associate director of the UCLA Center for Research. "Yet that is what our public policy currently requires in order to get any public help with in-home or nursing . As the number of older Californians grows rapidly in the coming years, the policy challenge for our leaders is how to help them age with dignity in their own homes."

With 85 percent of the registered voters surveyed "almost certain to vote" in the elections this November, the vast majority (87 percent) believe it is important for California's gubernatorial candidates to talk about the importance of long-term care in their campaigns.

State legislators have proposed cuts of $5.5 billion to home- and community-based long-term care services as part in the 2010-11 state budget. Currently, none of the leading candidates for governor has yet included long-term care in their policy platforms.

"Cuts to the state's already beleaguered long-term care system will not make the issue go away," Chernof said. "There is still to time to restructure and build a sustainable network of home- and community-based services to meet the emerging need."

To view the poll results, visit www.healthpolicy.ucla.edu or www.thescanfoundation.org .

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