America has an aging population. As the baby boomer generation grows older (and wiser) and lifespans continue to increase, more and more people are going to need long term care. Today, long term care is invariably provided by humans – by family members, home health aides, and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
But how much long term care can be provided in this manner? Taking care of a family member is difficult, and often takes a toll on the caregiver’s own health and productivity. Professional caregivers are expensive – home health aides often cost around $25 / hour, and nursing homes commonly cost more than $10,000 per month. At FriedmanLaw, we often help families figure out how to pay for long term care, with Medicaid and other resources. But as the population of people who need long term care grows, there may come a point where there simply aren’t enough caregivers.
Providing long term care to everyone who needs it will require creativity. One of the more interesting solutions is robotic caregivers, which are being developed by companies across the world. It may sound like something from a bizarre science fiction movie, but in the near future, robot caregivers in people’s homes may be able to administer medication, check vital signs, teleconference doctor and family visits, assist with mobility, perform household chores, and even provide companionship. Robots may replace human caregivers, or allow human caregivers to care for more patients in less time. Robots may allow people to stay in their homes longer instead of going into long term care facilities.
I’ll leave the technical aspects to other people. But from a legal and financial standpoint, an obvious question arises: Who’s going to pay for all these robots?
If a robot caregiver prevented someone from going into a nursing home, it would save tens of thousands of dollars per year. Often, much of that cost ultimately falls to the government, through the Medicaid program. So the government may determine that it’s cheaper to provide robot caregivers to people, and include robot caregivers as a benefit under Medicare. Perhaps insurers also would pick up the tab, if robot caregivers prevented emergency room visits. It’s a potential gold mine for a company that can develop a practical, useful robotic caregiver, with a huge market and a deep-pocketed buyer.
Robots certainly can’t take care of everyone. Some people have demanding, constant medical and safety needs, and the only safe setting is a nursing home or assisted living facility. And of course, people are scared of robots. Robot caregivers would have to be developed with whom people feel comfortable. But if robots can be created that alleviate some of the need for human caregivers, that would be a major step towards solving a looming problem.
In the mean time, if you or a loved one may need long term care in the future, contact FriedmanLaw to discuss care options and how to pay for them.