Is a Cruise a Cheap Way to Get Long-Term Care?

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2015-10-18 – There was a funny story on Facebook about how an elderly woman booked herself on endless sea cruises as a cheap alternative to long-term care. I forwarded the story myself. But then I got to thinking whether the point was true, so I looked it up.

It’s not really true.

The national median cost for a year of nursing home care is around $80,000 (statistics are from an annual cost of care survey done by Genworth). That is close to the figure given in the “funny story.” But nursing home care is not the normal level of care for anyone who would be capable of functioning on a cruise ship. Nursing home care is for someone who is pretty sick. And, because of that, Medicare actually picks up a certain amount of nursing home care.

The kind of facility that would be comparable to a cruise ship would be an assisted-living facility. The Genworth survey gives a median annual cost of about $43,000 or about $118 per day. This is actually less than the cost of the cruise cited in the “funny story,” which was $135 with a senior discount.

I had trouble finding confirmation of this figure, but I did find that, whatever charge that’s quoted for a cruise is going to be misleading. They don’t tell you that there are extra costs for everything. The $135 is probably just the beginning. Maybe you’d pay $150 if you are frugal, $200 if you ever want to go ashore. Maybe more.

The “funny story” also talks about the great service you get on a cruise ship. But folks don’t go into assisted living if they are able to be independent. Assisted living provides help for people who are not mobile, they give baths if needed, they feed you if needed, they help you go to the toilet, they move you from your wheel chair to your bed. And it’s included in the cost.

So the story doesn’t really reflect the truth.

So why do we laugh at it. We laugh because there is a general feeling that health care costs in this country are unreasonably high—that we pay luxury prices for not-so-luxurious service. And that may be true for health care services, but long-term care services are not the same as health care. No medical insurance pays for long-term care because they are living expenses, not health care. (Nursing care is different because the services overlap.)

Some folks in this country may be able to go on luxury cruises in their golden years. Most can’t. Even affording assisted living is a big drain.

Do we have to fact check our jokes now, too? Good grief.

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