By Bruce Chernof, M.D.
California is home to more than 14 million Latinos, who make up roughly 38% of the state’s population. In this community, caring for one’s elders is often a source of pride and a strong familial tradition. Yet a coming wave of need for services threatens the financial security of many Latinos in the state. Six of 10 Latino voters over the age of 40 say a close family member will likely need long-term care in the next five years, yet most do not know where they will turn for help, according to a new poll by The SCAN Foundation and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
If faced with these needs, 68% of Latino voters indicated that they could not afford even a single month of nursing home care – which costs on average $6,800 a month in California. Furthermore, 74% of Latinos mistakenly believe or are not sure if Medicare will cover these long-term care needs, indicating a greater need for awareness about who pays for these services. The reality is that Medicare only pays for short-term rehabilitation. The majority of those needing long-term care will require it for an average of three years and these costs primarily borne by individuals and families.
Addressing the needs of aging Latinos in the state is not an issue that can be ignored or put off for future generations. Due to the prolonged economic downturn in the state, Latinos are worried about just getting by, with 78% expressing concerns that their income will not be enough to meet their family’s living expenses and bills. Here in California, once you have spent nearly all of your income and savings for this kind of care, Medi-Cal is the only alternative. Statewide, nearly half of California voters surveyed have experienced a decline in their household income over the past 12 months, and another 42% have had to cut down the amount they spent on food. Californians are clearly struggling to get by and when prompted to look into the future, many in the state, including Latinos, are worried about being able to pay for their health and long-term care needs.
However, there is also hope for the state to build a system of care that enables people to age with dignity and in their communities. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents at all income levels have at last found an issue on which they can agree: 88% of respondents said providing more affordable options for long-term care so that individuals can stay out of a nursing home should be a key priority for state elected officials. Support for building a strong system of long-term care ranked higher as a priority than balancing the state budget. There is work underway. Proposals at the state level are on the table for reorganizing services as well as improving assessment measures so that people can receive the right care by the right provider at the right time, with an emphasis on care coordination and efficiency.
Right now Californians must prepare for this wave of long-term care needs that will land in short order, and Latinos must be part of this conversation. The challenges that Latino community will face beg for greater awareness and action by state and local policymakers. Through leadership, prioritization, and resolute action, we can find solutions so that all Californians can age with dignity in their communities for years to come, even in difficult financial times.
Dr. Bruce Chernof, M.D., is president and CEO of The SCAN Foundation. Full poll results can be found at www.TheSCANFoundation.org
Note: The SCAN Foundation is a sponsor of www.healthycal.org