America's system of caring for elderly people who need long-term care is strained to the breaking point. While bureaucrats and businesses argue over finances, people in their twilight years may become collateral damage, finding themselves suddenly without a home.

Assisted-living facilities and the federal-state Medicaid system that's supposed to provide medical insurance for low-income people are at odds over reimbursement rates — how much the facilities should receive for caring for people whose bills are paid by Medicaid.

People whose nursing home bills are paid by Medicaid are protected by federal law from eviction, but assisted-living facilities aren't similarly regulated. Maybe it's time they were.

According to a report in the Washington Post, there's a disturbing trend of elderly people being unceremoniously evicted from facilities that have become their long-term homes.

Imagine: An elderly man or woman reaches the point where it's no longer safe or even possible to live at home without some help. That person finds a new home at an assisted-living facility and, for a time, things go reasonably well.

Then, often without much warning, that vulnerable senior citizen is told he or she must leave that home because the facility is no longer accepting Medicaid. Odds are, the person being evicted has no idea where to go.

America's senior citizens should never be treated this way. It's unacceptable to eject elderly people from their homes, especially when Medicare and Medicaid are the government programs designed to make sure that sort of thing doesn't happen. Aging people, including those without the money or medical insurance to pay their bills, must be cared for and protected.

Making matters worse is the reality that our "system" of making sure elderly people are cared for, even if they have no money, is hardly a system at all. Full-fledged nursing homes, the Post reported, are regulated differently than assisted-living facilities. The federal government monitors and regulates nursing homes, and their residents whose bills are paid by Medicaid are protected from eviction.

Residents of assisted-living facilities who are on Medicaid are not protected from eviction.

The difference in the two facilities is, essentially, that nursing homes are for residents with more serious medical problems, in need of medical care and personal assistance. Assisted-living facilities are for those who need assistance of various types but are less dependent on others.

In reality, the lines can be blurry. Some assisted-living facilities offer more levels of care and services than others.

Assisted-living facilities are usually considered more desirable places to live than nursing homes. Millions of American seniors live in some sort of long-term care, and about 4.4 million of them depend on Medicaid to pay their bills, in assisted-living as well as in nursing homes.

But long-term care for seniors is facing a crisis. Seventy-three million baby boomers are beginning to reach that age where many will need some care. At the same time, long-term care facilities are still recovering from the pandemic and related economic pressures. They are short-staffed and paying more for labor, food and supplies.

Sometimes residents must move from assisted living to a more expensive nursing home because their health deteriorates and they need more care.

It's different when an assisted-living facility stops accommodating some residents because Medicaid reimbursement is inadequate. Medicaid pays significantly less than many facilities charge residents paying for their own care.

It's time to evaluate how assisted-living facilities are or aren't regulated, and to ask whether Medicaid should raise reimbursement rates, at least enough to offset inflation.

While any reforms are being worked out, something must be done to protect assisted-living residents on Medicaid from eviction. What kind of country would accept such inhumane treatment of its vulnerable elders?

Eviction is especially upsetting for residents who paid their own way for years, using up their life savings and outliving any long-term care insurance they paid for. When such people outlast their savings and finally turn to Medicaid, they should not be thrown out of their homes.

We must do better than this. Aged Americans should be protected from ill-treatment and lack of care.