In the home care field, we often speak of its benefits in terms of individual preference and quality of care. Certainly we know that being able to remain at home is a goal of at least 90% of older adults. We can also vouch for the flexibility of home care, where schedules and providers can be tailored to the unique needs of each individual.
But a recent news article points to the important consideration of cost in determining the best type of care for an older loved one. At a workshop held by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council, participants examined the ways in which rising health care costs can be reigned in, particularly as baby boomers age. The solution? An increased focus on home health for seniors.
Not coincidentally, a recent IOM report had documented how higher medical bills can be tied to communication problems, particularly when seniors are not asked about how they want to spend their later years. In families where this question is not asked and answered, seniors are more likely to die in a facility rather than at home. Studies and surveys have consistently shown that individuals can receive better health outcomes at lower costs when cared for at home.
The term “home health care” covers a variety of care options, from post-surgical rehabilitation in the home, to hospice or palliative care at the end of life. Options can be medical or social in nature, depending upon the needs of the individual. Some families may need someone to simply provide mediation reminders and transport loved ones to medical appointments. In other cases, daily assistance with housekeeping and personal care may be required. One reason costs are generally lower with home care is that, rather than having an entire cadre of medical staff available 24/7, services can be provided only when specifically needed. In most cases, home care is requested for only a few hours each day or week. Approximately 42% of one national home care network’s clients utilize their services for eight hours of less per week.
Take the case of an individual who needs a month of follow-up care after surgery. Typical home care costs for a month may run around $1200, as opposed to a bill 5 to 10 times as high at a skilled nursing facility.
The emphasis on cost savings at the recent workshop was not arbitrary. National trends in both health care and aging point to the need to find better cost savings. Health care costs continue to rise, and the U.S. population is aging at faster rates than ever before. One prediction points to a tripling of the population of individuals 80 and over by 2050. Older adults also tend to have higher health care costs than their younger cohorts. Seniors on Medicare who receive home health are treated for an average of four or more chronic medical conditions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Kaiser also estimates a sharper increase in the demand for home health in future years. People who have recently turned 65 are already enrolling in home health programs in higher numbers. Research indicates that approximately 70% of individuals over the age of 65 will need long-term care services at some point.
Cost comparisons for different types of long-term care can be found on several excellent websites. We would recommend that families engaged in long-term care planning take a look at one or more of these sites:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website
John Hancock’s 2013 Cost of Care Survey
The aforementioned IOM report finds that home care is not only less expensive, but that care recipients feel they have a better quality of life and greater dignity. When considering care options, it’s hard to argue with the value of such an assessment.