Thursday, June 01, 2017

Older Adults Who Become Disabled Have Less Wealth

When older Americans become disabled and need long-term care services and supports (LTSS), their wealth plummets. Long-term care insurance would help to conserve this wealth. Yet only 11 percent of people aged 65 or older have purchased a policy. An Urban Institute study examines whether policies to encourage more Americans to buy long-term care insurance would be successful.

Using Health and Retirement Study data, the Urban Institute's Richard W. Johnson tracked adults without disabilities from 1992 (when they were aged 51 to 59) until 2012 (when they were 71 to 79) to determine whether those who became disabled and in need of care during the time period differed in some way from those who remained disability free. He found big differences in wealth between the two groups. Among adults who developed disabilities, median household wealth was just $139,200 in 2012. Among those who remained disability free, median wealth was 61 percent higher at $224,600.

Older adults who became disabled over the 20-year time period had much less wealth than those who remained disability free—and the wealth gap existed years before they developed disabilities. Thus, adults at high risk of becoming disabled are at an economic disadvantage and unlikely to be able to afford long-term care insurance. Consequently, concludes Johnson, "proposed policies designed to encourage people to pre-fund future LTSS expenses may have limited impact because they will be unable to target those with the highest expenses."

Source: Urban Institute, Later-Life Household Wealth before and after Disability Onset

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