Long Term Care:

Baby Boom Generation Presents Financing Challenges

T-HEHS-98-107: Published: Mar 9, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 1998.

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William J. Scanlon
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the challenges the country will face in financing long-term care for the baby boom generation, focusing on: (1) the current spending for long-term care for the elderly; (2) the increased demand that the baby boom generation will likely create for long-term care; (3) recent shifts in Medicaid and Medicare financing of long-term care; and (4) the potential role of private long-term care insurance in help finance this care.

GAO noted that: (1) spending for long-term care for the elderly totalled almost $91 billion in 1995, the most recent year for which expenditures from all sources were available; (2) almost 40 percent of these dollars were paid for by the elderly and their families and almost 60 percent by Medicaid and Medicare; (3) these amounts, however, do not include many hidden costs of long-term care, since an estimated two-thirds of the disabled elderly living in the community rely exclusively on their families and other unpaid sources for their care; (4) according to current estimates by the Congressional Research Service, nearly a quarter of the nation's elderly population--over 7 million elderly people--have some form of disability for which they require assistance, such as help with bathing, dressing, eating, preparing meals, or taking medicine; (5) as the 76-million-strong baby boom generation ages, so too will its demand for long-term care increase; (6) long-range predictions of the magnitude of the baby boomers' long-term care needs, however, vary, with estimates of the disabled elderly ranging from 2 to 4 times the current disabled elderly; (7) estimates of cost are even more imprecise due to the uncertain impact of several important factors, including who will be needing care, the types of care they will need, and who will fund it; (8) Medicaid and Medicare, which currently finance almost two-thirds of long-term care, have undergone significant changes in recent years; (9) while historically the majority of Medicaid long-term care expenditures were for nursing home care, in recent years there has been a shift toward more financing of home and community-based care; (10) at the same time, Medicare, the largest public payer for home-based care, has been paying for care that more and more resembles long-term care; (11) private long-term care insurance, seen as a means of helping reduce the catastrophic financial risk for people needing long-term care and some of the financing burden that falls to public programs, has contributed little to date; (12) it is a relatively new form of insurance with a growing market; and (13) nevertheless, after 10 years, a very small proportion of the elderly or near-elderly have coverage.

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