Everyday on the news we are reminded that the Canadian health care system is in a state of crisis.  Those who have family or friends on long-term care waiting lists or in a facility already,know that the situation is becoming desperate.  The shortage of long-term care beds is so severe hospital beds, already in short supply, are occupied by those awaiting transfers to long term care facilities. Often that wait can last years.  Even 20 years ago when my great grandfather waited for placement in suitable facility given he had Alzheimer’s, the wait was over a year.  That was 30 years ago, today the situation is far far worst!

With growing pressure from an ageing population, the system simply cannot handle the increasing burden. Consider this:

  • In 1900, 7% of all adults were over age 65
  • Currently, 17% are over age 65
  • By 2020, over 23% will be over 65
  • The number of Canadians aged 80 and over will double in the next 20 years – and triple in the next 40 years
  • The number of seniors in Canada has increased by one million in the last decade
  • By the year 2036, it is expected that there will be between 4.6 million and 5.1 million seniors with disabilities
  • By 2020, there will be as many seniors as children!

Currently we are spending $4.1 billion each year on Alzheimer’s and dementia. In 20 years, the number of seniors afflicted with some form of dementia will more than double, to 750,000.  With an ageing population comes the increasing costs.

Our medical system is already unable to deal with this. Even in general, the system is overburdened.  Have you had wait in an Emergency Room lately?  How about wait for an appointment with a specialist?  Or how about the dreaded surgical wait list?  Do to the increased demand and pressures there has been a shift towards “less costly” community-based care and a dramatically increase in the demand for home care.  At the same time the average number of home care hours you might have received a few years ago has dropped from over 20 hours per week to just 2-4 hours per week!

Again, those of us who have elderly parents and friends might be forgiven for feeling somewhat cynical about the current debate surrounding two-tier medical services. When it comes to long- term care for our loved ones, it is readily apparent that a two-tier system is already well entrenched. In short, the services are available, if you can write the cheque.

So…what are the chances that you will need long term care? It’s true, we are living longer – in fact, in 1996, life expectancy at age 65 was 18.4 years, 5 more than in 1941. But the other side of the coin is that of those 18 years, on average, 9 are relatively healthy, and the other years include 3 years each of slight, moderate, and severe disability. In fact, it is estimated that at least 40% of all people over 65 will need some form of long-term health care services.

Traditionally, we have counted on the government to provide for our medical needs, but when it comes to long-term care, you can expect the following from our medical system:

  • Long waits, up to three or four years just to get into a facility,
  • Outdated and overcrowded facilities,
  • An annual financial assessment, to determine the level of subsidy received,
  • No choice of location, both in terms of which facility and which community! (You could end up in a town awy from friends and family)
  • Reduced services.

The combination of high cost for private home care or facility care and public care or financial assistants being based on an analysis of your financial means… You could find your retirement savings liquidated in a few short years.  Consider the following:

  • Current home care costs about $30 per hour, and up to $50 per hour for some services
  • Even a government facility will cost you from $750 to $1500 per month, in addition to the subsidy
  • Private facilities range from $2500 to $7000+ per month! And don’t forget, this is the cost per person, not per couple.

There is an option to help protect your choices and your finances.  Long-term care insurance covers virtually all of the expenses of long-term care, either in your own home or in a facility, for periods ranging from a few years to lifetime coverage.

Those of us involved in financial planning, long-term care insurance may be the most important financial tools available to Canadians.   Long term care insurance may be the only option to protection us from the loss of our lifestyle, our independence, and our control over our health and finances.

As I once heard it so eloquently put , “Most people want to choose where they go, instead of having to go where they are taken…”

How do you determine the amount long term care insurance you need, given the future is so unpredictable?  Simply buy as much as you can afford.  The demand for and costs of are going to increase and increase a lot!

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