The prospect of dying broke looms as an imminent threat for the boomer generation, which vastly expanded the middle class and looked hopefully toward a comfortable retirement on the backbone of 401(k)s and pensions. Roughly 10,000 of them will turn 65 every day until 2030, expecting to live into their 80s and 90s as the price tag for long-term care explodes, outpacing inflation and reaching a half-trillion dollars a year, according to federal researchers.
The United States has no coherent system of long-term care, mostly a patchwork. The private market where a minuscule portion of families buy long-term care insurance has shriveled, reduced over years of giant rate hikes by insurers that had underestimated how much care people would actually use. Labor shortages have left families searching for workers willing to care for their elders in the home. And the cost of a spot in an assisted-living facility has soared to an unaffordable level for most middle-class Americans. They have to run out of money to qualify for nursing home care paid for by the government.
For an examination of the crisis in long-term care, The New York Times and KFF Health News interviewed families across the nation as they struggled to obtain care; examined companies that provide it; and analyzed data from the federally funded Health and Retirement Study, the most authoritative national survey of older people about their long-term care needs and financial resources.