Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Yet growing costs are putting quality nursing home care out of the reach of most Americans. According to a 2012 survey by MetLife 2012, the average private room in a nursing home cost more than $90,000 year, and a semi-private room topped $81,000. Home healthcare—where a healthcare professional visits and provides care in the elder’s home—especially when a senior is recovering from injury or surgery, is often less disruptive and more cost effective. Patients receive nursing care, physical therapy and/or speech pathology services from certified healthcare professionals. This enables many aging Americans to live in their own homes much longer than they would otherwise be able to.

Yet relatively unnoticed in much of the controversy over the Affordable Care Act is its $22 billion dollar cut from Medicare’s home health care services. This will affect approximately 3.5 million of America’s lowest income seniors, and potentially put 40% of home health agencies out of business. (Home healthcare services are less than 3% of Medicare’s budget but received 10% of the ACA-related cuts.) The ACA’s intended benefits for older Americans—which raises premiums for younger adults to help lower the costs for the elderly—may not materialize since so few young people are signing up.

Despite these issues, the United States ranked eighth in the world for the wellbeing of our elderly, in a recent study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund. The study measured factors such health, income security, employment and education opportunities; it also evaluated how “elder friendly” a society was, based on “physical safety, access to public transportation and the ease of maintaining social connections late in life.”

So despite the rising costs of elder care, the United States remains one of the best countries in the world in which to grow old. Ironically, Asia—where Confucian values long caused the elderly to be revered and cherished—has experienced a shocking increase in elderly suicides over the past ten to fifteen years. Suicide rates of those over 65 have spiked in countries such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Singapore. The rates remained relatively stable in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam, suggesting that the increase is tied to economic development and the associated cultural changes.

There are no easy answers to the rising costs of caring for our aging relatives. As the world continues to change rapidly, we must not forget those who have gone before us and made our progress possible. We must work together for flexible, creative solutions which support families and allow our loved ones to enjoy their golden years.

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.