Bad-mouthing the cost of long-term care

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Finally. That's was my silent reaction when I received the email from a top long-term care provider last week. What took so long?

I still wonder.

The email was a well-reasoned, yet unmistakable rebuke of our article relaying word of a report finding the average annual charge for a nursing home room had exceeded $100,000 for the first time. 

To be more precise, Lincoln Financial Group projected the national average charge for a private room to be $102,900, up 3.3% from what they reported a year earlier. I had thought using “breaks $100,000 for the first time” in the headline would be more intriguing than using the actual number, and I was right.

“Every time I read this story, I find it so irrelevant and damaging to the long-term care sector, and extremely self-serving,” my long-time acquaintance fumed in his email. He went on to call the insurer's report “distorted information, disguised as a research study, as a tactic to sell” to people who “in all likelihood will never need care for a year in a nursing home.” Further, he said, the probability of someone personally paying for a year of skilled care “is infinitesimally small.”

Well, that took a long time, I thought. For years, McKnight's has run stories on “report” findings like these from various insurers. But not until last week did a single provider ever question one of our articles about these publicized costs of care. There have been dozens of opportunities. We view them as an industry stakeholder publicizing data on a subject of interest to our readers, who are never told how to feel about the data.

My email correspondent (who asked that his name and position not be mentioned) clearly disdained the insurers' tactics on several fronts. One, he sees such reports as a basic “ploy” to entice long-term care insurance sales. Two, he thinks long-term care insurance is “one of the worst financial decisions they could ever make.” Just invest premium fees in a “traditional saving mechanism” such as a 401k, he recommends, sounding a lot like finance gurus who advise the same instead of buying extended appliance warranties.

But his biggest gripe is that the publicized costs of care are just allegations — unproven, that is — and at a minimum, a distraction. I'm not going to get into the methodology of how the insurance companies come by their findings. (They provide their own justification.) That's not my focus here. Besides, some of you are already reciting what Mark Twain said about statistics.

The emailer's main beef is that the big prices insurers continually tout for long-term care — which often include projections for assisted living, home health, adult daycare and other categories — make caregivers look bad.

It's never directly stated as such, but he's right. The insurers aren't trying to impress anyone with how economical and affordable the cost of care is.

That made my correspondent understandably indignant. He urged McKnight's to “stop giving free marketing when they persist in distorting reality through some inane extrapolation of daily private charges.”

In these cost-of-care stories, we will always specify the sources so the reader can further interpret the information. Additionally, whenever we write about this subject in the future, we will seek rounded out comments since this has become a contentious issue.

Finally.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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