Who will care for America’s aging population?

Nearly 70 percent of Americans who reach age 65 will, at some point, be unable to care for themselves without assistance. Issues of long-term care also affect millions of younger people with significant cognitive or physical functional limitations. Yet long-term care gets neither the public attention nor the policy focus that it deserves.

The scope of the challenge before our nation was recently summed up by the Commission on Long-Term Care. In its final report to Congress, the federally appointed bipartisan group wrote that in today’s system, services and supports “are highly fragmented and difficult for individuals and family caregivers to access” and that the system “lack[s] the focus and coordination across agencies and providers necessary to ensure the best outcomes for the person and family.” Services are also “provided in ways that can be expensive and inefficient.”

Approximately 12 million Americans require long-term care. Adults age 65 and older make up 56 percent of that group. The vast majority of long-term care in this country is provided, unpaid, by families. Valued at about $450 billion a year, it depends on people’s ability to juggle paid work, family responsibilities and care for loved ones. Paid care, whether in homes or in community-based or institutional situations, is worth some $211 billion a year, with the federal and state governments footing $131 billion of that cost through Medicaid.

– The Washington Post

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