Health beat: Corn dogs, hog barns -- and elder care?

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2013 - 7:56 PM

One minute, tops, is what Minnesota officials figured they'd have to discuss the challenges of aging with State Fair visitors before people lost interest and headed off to the swine barn or butter queen.

So they streamlined a survey to gauge how adults feel about aging and plan to pay for future long-term care needs.

"At the State Fair, you know, they're busy eating cheese curds and meeting relatives," said LaRhae Knatterud, an expert on aging with the state Department of Human Services.

Results from the survey of 2,400 people, released this week, were like the giant pumpkin in the Ag Building: big and interesting, but kind of what you'd expect. A rising number of Minnesotans are concerned about their well-being in retirement, which makes sense given the aging of the population. But one-quarter had no concrete plan for how to pay for things like nursing home stays.

"There was a ... higher percentage of people than last year who did not have a clue how they were going to pay for long-term care," Knatterud said.

Thirty percent intend to use savings for long-term care -- a risky prospect considering how quickly a year in nursing care can exhaust a bank account. A private room in a Minnesota nursing home averages $85,000 a year.

Those with higher incomes were more likely to stash money in 401(k)s. Lower-income respondents were more likely to have living wills and inform relatives of their wishes.

One in five plans to use long-term care insurance -- though only 9 percent of adults in the state have these plans.

Knatterud hopes the state can increase public interest and persuade insurers to create more affordable plans.

Attempts have failed before. Even President Obama cried uncle. As part of the fiscal cliff deal, his administration withdrew plans to expand the long-term care market.

Knatterud believes the public will soon push for change: "There seemed to be more of a sense across the spectrum of age and income that this is an important topic. It's starting to get into the water a bit more."

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