COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

SD's higher cost of living extends to long-term care

San Diegans pay thousands more for assisted living facilities

Living in San Diego comes with a high cost. Most people realize it is necessary to pay more for housing, gasoline, food and many other items when living in and around America’s Finest City.

However, those costs skyrocket when dealing with the escalating cost of long-term care. A new report shows the price tag for nursing homes, assisted living and home care services are all rising at a rate faster than inflation.

The MetLife Mature Market Institute said the national average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home rose 3.7 percent this year to $222 a day, or $81,030 a year. The average rate in San Diego is $225 a day, or nearly $1,100 a year more than the national average.

Assisted living base rates increased this year by 2.1 percent to a national rate of $3,550 a month, or $42,600 a year. The San Diego assisted living rate averages $3,821 a month, or $45,852 annually.

Home care costs remained unchanged in 2012 both nationally and in San Diego at $21 a day.

“Consumer demand for home care services has led to a proliferation of home care services providers and more choices for consumers," said Steve Zabel, senior vice president of long-term care at Genworth, which also has released a report on costs. "This competition has kept home care costs relatively stable, especially when compared to the cost of care in a nursing home or assisted living facility.”

There are an estimated 1,300 licensed long-term care nursing facilities in California with as many as 300,000 patients a year receiving treatment. The average length of stay is less than three months for 80 percent of the resident population, and less than 8 percent remain in the facility for a year or more, according to the California Association of Health Facilities.

While most people and families would prefer to receive care in their own homes, the complexity of care often demands patients live in an assisted living or nursing home facility. And that’s when the expenses start to add up.

“We attribute some of the higher pricing to rising energy and overall operating and employment costs," said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "Those planning for long-term care for themselves or their parents will do well to consider such pricing, and to save and invest bearing in mind that these expenses have a history of rising measurably from year to year.”

Contrary to popular belief, long-term care is not covered by Medicare, meaning the burden of covering these costs is an individual cost. As the report suggests, the high cost of care can quickly erode a family’s nest egg. That is why many people are exploring the use of long-term care insurance to cover these expenses.

The National Coalition on Health Care, an alliance of consumers, providers and payers, has released a plan including $500 billion in spending reductions and health-related revenues with longer-term policy changes designed to make health care affordable.

“More than a budgetary challenge, the question we face is a moral one, whether we can act to keep health care affordable today and for future generations,” said John Rother, CEO of the coalition.

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