Conor Griffith, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
April 20--People often think of saving up for college or retirement. However, the cost of aging is a steadily rising one that could rival both.
According to an industry survey, the median bill for a private room in a nursing home is now $91,250 a year. This past year, it was $87,600, according to Genworth Financial, a Virginia-based life insurance company.
Genworth surveyed 15,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other providers across the country in January and February for its report.
It found wide differences from state to state. In Oklahoma, for instance, the median cost for a year in a nursing home with a private room came out to $60,225. In Connecticut, it was $158,775. Alaska had the highest costs by far, with one year at $281,415.
According to that same report, the median cost for a year in a West Virginia nursing home with a private room came out to $107,631.
The Genworth survey broke down each state's cost by region. For example, the median nursing home cost in Berkeley County is $119,355, while that same bill in Wheeling is much less, at $73,913. In the Morgantown area, the cost is $103,113.
Genworth's report also provides the breakdown for the costs of assisted living facilities, adult day health care and home health care. A private room in a nursing home is the most expensive category in the study.
There are some exceptions. Michael Hicks, president of Sundale Care, in Morgantown, said state median cost for a private room comes out to about $295 a day. He said Sundale charges $270 for a private room, which comes to $98,550 a year, which is below both the state and Morgantown area median.
"Medicaid is the big player," said Alex Guerrero, director of operations for Paying For Senior Care, an organization established to assist individuals in the planning and implementing of long-term senior care.
"At first, people will turn to Medicare, but Medicare is only short term, covering about 80 percent of the first 100 days in a nursing home," he said.
Guerrero added that most people will start paying for nursing home bills with Medicare, and when that runs out, they pay out of pocket until that's no longer an option. Then they switch over to Medicaid, the government's health insurance for the poor, to help cover the bill. Guerrero said this system is unsustainable.
"With the aging of our population, we're going to have to find creative ways to care for our elderly," said Patrick Kelly, the CEO of the West Virginia Health Care Association.
Kelly said nursing homes differ from assisted living facilities because they are intended to house a less healthy demographic that may require regular hospital visits. He also said that Medicaid doesn't have a time limit such as Medicare. This means that 73 percent of the people in nursing homes are covered by Medicaid, which is causing immense strain on the program.
"In West Virginia, the problem is compounded by not having a very healthy population to begin with," Kelly said.
The survey includes projected costs and the bill isn't getting any cheaper. By 2025, the annual cost of a private room in a nursing home is expected to rise from $107,631 to $144,647 in West Virginia. By 2045, it could be $261,249.
"I can't see that reversing," Guerrero said, adding that costs keep rising because the costs of medical care within nursing homes is rising along with the non-medical care they provide, such as dining and recreation.
Kelly noted that West Virginia recently raised the minimum wage, which in turn means an overall wage increase that leads to higher costs. "The labor costs in the health care field are huge, especially in nursing homes because they're staffed 24/7."
While the cost of nursing homes continues to rise, Guerrero said more and more people are opting for assisted living facilities, which are much less expensive. The median annual cost of an assisted living facility in West Virginia is $48,000, according to Genworth.
Guerrero said advances in in-home care technologies means more senior citizens have access to the same quality care that they would at a nursing home. Home health care services are less expensive than assisted living centers.
"You're going to see fewer people going into nursing homes and spending a lot less time there," he said.