Courier | The Alarming Reality of America’s Elder Care Crisis

Updated: May 22, 2020

Written By: KEYA VAKIL

Many people believe Medicare will cover long-term care costs, such as fees associated with going into a nursing home. It doesn’t.

Every morning, Joy Randall starts her day by making her father a cup of coffee. Once he’s caffeinated, their daily routine begins. She helps her father get dressed, takes him to and from dialysis and doctors appointments, manages his medicine, and prepares his meals. It’s a routine they’ve honed after 18 months of living together again. 

A successful makeup artist, Randall put her career on hold in 2018 so that she could take care of her ailing father. The 38-year-old uprooted her life in Charlotte, North Carolina—a city she’d called home her entire life—to move to a small, rural town about 40 minutes north of Raleigh called Henderson. There, she manages her father’s complex array of medical issues.

Image by Kanan Shah via COURIER

Randall’s father is 73 years old and suffers from diabetes, which has led to several complications. Among them are glaucoma, which has blinded him; a partial amputation of his foot; and kidney failure, for which he needs dialysis.

Randall said she made the choice to care for her father because there were few other options available. Her father is a veteran and worked in the education system—meaning he has a retirement plan—but he’s not wealthy enough to afford full-time home care and he’s not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, which would cover many of his long-term care needs.

“He makes too much money,” Randall said.

Randall’s father is, however, on Medicare. But as he and an increasing number of families are finding out, the program doesn’t cover nearly as much as most Americans think. 

Enacted as part of the Social Security Act in 1965, Medicare is the nation’s federal health insurance program for Americans who are 65 or older. It covers hospital stays, doctors’ services, outpatient care, and some drug costs, but the program offers very limited care for long-term illnesses or diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. In most circumstances, Medicare also fails to cover in-home services, such as meal delivery and bathing, for chronically ill seniors like Randall’s father.

“The myth is that Medicare will cover long-term care needs. Most Americans think that’s the case, but that is not the case.”

“The myth is that Medicare will cover long-term care needs. Most Americans think that’s the case, but that is not the case,” said Lynn Feinberg, senior strategic policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute. “Medicare provides very limited help if one goes into a rehab facility after you have a hip replacement, for example, but it doesn’t cover a regular nursing home and most people believe it does cover that.” 

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