Once again PBS goes out of it’s way to get the needs of our nations elders completely wrong.

On November 6 PBS published an article titled 6 tips for averting America’s looming long-term care crisis.  There was nothing really wrong with the “six tips” at the end of the article except that I am not sure you would read them and come away thinking they offered serious solutions to either consumers or law makers. That being said, it is frustrating and puzzling that an organization of the size and stature of PBS would seem to work so hard at getting the basics wrong.  About the only thing they get right is that we have an aging population and that it will provide new challenges.  Here are the statements that got my blood boiling:

1. “Most Americans over 65 will need about three years of long-term care”. This is just a crazy pulled from the air statement.  If that were the case we would need way more skilled nursing home beds today than we have.  In fact, if anything we are seeing the demand for skilled nursing beds decreasing and I predict that in 5-7 years 1/3 of our total skilled nursing home beds will disappear. Even if they meant to include assisted living (and I hope they didn’t because, classifying assisted living as part of long-care would demonstrate an even deeper level of ignorance.) it is a preposterous number.

2.  “Nursing home care runs roughly $72,000 per year, on average. Add it up and many Americans could be facing bills of $216,000 or more.” This is such a typical case of playing fast and loose with the facts.  Sure, the average cost of private-pay skilled nursing is $72,000 but that represents less than 20% of the total nursing home population.  Today the vast majority of nursing home residents have all of their paid for through the Medicaid program. Don’t get me wrong, there are some serious problems with the whole funding system, but we are not stranding people with quarter million dollar skilled nursing tabs at the end of their lives.

3.  “. . . and contrary to popular belief, it’s usually not covered by Medicare” Again I am sure there are some people who think their entire skilled nursing bill will be paid for by Medicare, but I doubt most. We ought to be concerned about stories like this because it does not really help the conversation about our aging population.  It is particularly telling that apparently neither American Health Care Association (AHCA) or LeadingAge the two groups that represent the vast majority of long-term care communities were consulted. There are lots things we need to struggle with, issues that are real problems including issues of cost and funding. Here is my question for you:  If you had been asked to contribute, what would you have said? Steve Moran

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