U.S News and World Report had an article about the difficulties of caring for an elderly loved one. Journalist Gail Sheehy writes about navigating through the U.S. health care system during her struggle to care for her gravely ill husband.
More than a year ago, her husband, publisher Clay Felker, was being discharged from a New York City rehabilitation facility after spending several months there in his long battle with throat cancer. "So, he has to come home now, and we’ve run out of benefits," Sheehy recalled at a recent media briefing in New York City. "We’re coming out, and there’s also nobody telling me what I have to do. He has a feeding tube, he has a tracheotomy, he has medications. I don’t know where to start."
Desperate, she sought out and hired a "geriatric care manager" — at $125 an hour — to advise them. Their insurance might still pay for an at-home nurse, she found out, but only if it’s a Medicare-approved nurse — and there aren’t any available in the city.
There are home health-care aides, of course, "but they cannot do medical services like giving a shot, taking care of a trach, changing a feeding tube," Sheehy said.
Once private insurance benefits end, the only option for most Americans is Medicaid, which requires that recipients have less than $5,000 in assets.
Her geriatric care manager spelled it out to Sheehy: If the couple first exhausts all their remaining assets, then Medicaid will cover Felker’s nursing care.
And if Sheehy, in her late 60s, wasn’t willing to give up all her assets and income?
"Then, you need to divorce him," the geriatric care manager told her.
In Sheehy’s case, it never came to that. She and Felker scraped together enough money to hire qualified, in-home caregivers and Felker’s last months were spent at home, relatively serene. He died in July at age 82.
Sheehy called her 15-year journey with Felker through the U.S. health care system a "nightmare," and she wonders how less affluent and well-connected Americans are faring.
U.S. Census figures project that the number of Americans 65 or over will double by 2030, and that two-thirds of today’s 65-year-olds will require some period of long-term care later in their lives.
At the same time, the number of geriatricians has actually declined in recent years, to about 7,750: that translates to one for every 4,254 older Americans. In addition, it’s projected that the country will face a shortage of more than 800,000 nurses by 2020.
Wage issues are keeping the number of geriatricians at an all-time low, as well. Geriatricians are crucial, the experts said, because they look not at a particular disease or body site, but at the older person as a whole. However, a recent U.S. Institute of Medicine report found that geriatricians remain the lowest paid medical specialty of all.