© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You Count on Us, We Count on You: Donate to WUSF to support free, accessible journalism for yourself and the community.
More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Experts urge Floridians to make long-term care plans before a health crisis

Focused senior husband and wife sit at table at home look at laptop screen pay bills taxes online. Concentrated mature man and woman couple make internet payment on computer, manage finances
Getty Images
Many people think Medicare covers long-term care – like the cost of a room at a nursing home or home care – but it doesn’t.

Without financial and legal planning done in advance, experts say aging seniors and their loved ones are left with fewer options in today's elder care system.

With the climbing cost of long-term care and a shortage of health workers, experts say it's more important than ever for Floridians to make plans for aging.

Orlando-based elder law attorney Heather Kirson said many people wait until a significant health event lands them in a hospital and then a nursing home before considering the need for long-term support and services.

“Ninety percent of our planning is crisis planning,” she said. “So, 90 percent of our planning for public benefits is: people have done nothing, and they get a call on a Friday from the nursing home that they're discharging their loved one on Monday. And the family either needs to write a $10,000 check or come pick the loved one up.”

Kirson said this happens, in part, because there's a common misconception about the way Medicare works. She said many people think Medicare covers long-term care – like the cost of a room at a nursing home or home care – but it doesn’t.

“Once your 100 days under Medicare runs out – even though you still need 24-hour care – that's not going to be covered fully under Medicare,” Kirson explained.

 Eight donut graphs show the top concerns shared by caregivers relating to caring for aging loved ones.
Hire A Helper

Kirson said relying on Medicaid in Florida to cover long-term care costs, like a nursing home or home care, can also be tricky. As an income-cap state, a person in Florida must earn less than $2,742 a month in 2023 to qualify for Medicaid.

“If you make one penny more than that, you technically don't qualify for Medicaid. But that's absurd, because the cost of a nursing home is over $10,000 a month,” Kirson said. She added that there's legal avenues around that, but it requires an attorney.

Programs to pay family caregivers, or to help cover the cost of at-home care — like Medicaid's home- and community-based (HCBS) waivers and the VA aid and attendance benefits — often come with long wait lists and low compensation requirements, too.

Essentially, without financial and legal planning done in advance, Kirson said aging seniors and their loved ones are left with fewer options.

“That's one of the big hurdles is – in a crisis – we are stuck with the way the system works,” she said.

Kirson said people also tend to underestimate the physical and financial demands on family members who have to step up as full-time caretakers.

READ MORE: Family caregivers struggle to fill the gap in affordable long-term support and services  

In Florida, 29 percent of adults are financially supporting children at home and their aging parents, which is higher than the national average of 26 percent of U.S. adults, according to a report published by Hire A Helper.

“Those supporting their parents financially spend an average of $725 per month on it, accounting for between 13% and 16% of their household income,” according to the report.

A map of the United States shows the percentage of adults "sandwiched" between financially supporting children and aging parents.
Hire A Helper
In Florida, 29 percent of adults are financially supporting children and aging parents, according to survey data conducted by Hire A Helper and U.S. Census Bureau data.

Joy Loverde, an author and aging care expert, said she has noticed children of aging parents are less willing or able to care for their parents in old age.

She credits this divide, which is most prevalent between Baby Boomers and their children, to the climbing cost of living, across all age groups and income levels, that has made it harder for families to afford extra care costs for loved ones.

“This is just indicative of the times – how difficult it is for everybody to maintain a quality of life,” she said.

Loverde, who is the best-selling author of, “Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?” and “The Eldercare Planner,” said it’s more important than ever for aging adults to start planning for their future. The 4th edition of, “The Eldercare Planner,” which is a revised guide to caretaking and long-term care planning, is set to release on Oct. 24.

Loverde urges all aging adults to start conversations with their family, or close friends, about how they want to age.

“We are who we are, in spite of being healthy or in spite of being sick," she said. "And that's the way I approach all of my work – it doesn't matter, we still deserve a quality of life and to try to facilitate it for other people.”

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a  Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.