Prospective residents of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, or life plan communities) are making a big decision. It’s a choice that will have long-term implications for their quality of life, finances, and healthcare — obviously not something to be taken lightly. That’s why it’s important to ask the right questions so that you are fully informed about your CCRC decision.
5 key questions
There are literally hundreds of things you potentially could ask when exploring your CCRC options. (FYI, we plan to release our ultimate CCRC questionnaire later this year.) At myLifeSite, we try to answer many of these possible questions in our hundreds of community profiles, as well as in these blog posts. But as you visit specific CCRCs, these are five of the top questions I’d recommend you get answered (not in any particular order).
Which services are included in the CCRC’s monthly fee, today and tomorrow?
Depending on which CCRC contract type you choose, you may incur extra monthly charges for things like assisted living or healthcare services. If you should require nursing care, for example, things like a private room versus semi-private room can also impact fees, so you want to know this up front.
It is also critical to understand how your monthly fees may adjust under certain situations. For example, what if you live in a double-occupancy independent living residence, and one partner needs to move into assisted living and/or the healthcare facility, either on a temporary or permanent basis? What will that do to your fees?
Will the monthly fees increase over time?
Annual increases of 3 to 4 percent are common in the CCRC industry. Remember, annual fee increases are based, in part, on cost increases for the healthcare services provided to residents, which tend to increase faster than the inflation rate for consumer goods and services.
CCRCs should be willing to provide you with information on their financial trends so you can plan your finances accordingly. Take a look at the CCRC’s annual increases over the past five years. Unless there is an extenuating circumstance, this should give you a good idea of what the next five years should look like.
>> Related: The Cost of a CCRC vs. the Value to Residents
What happens if a resident runs out of money?
Many CCRCs, particularly not-for-profit providers, tell prospects that they will not “kick you out” if a resident exhausts their savings. However, the contract language on this topic can be somewhat vague and confusing.
The CCRC wants to take care of their residents, but they also have to make sure that they are good stewards of the community’s finances. Ask the CCRC representative to explain how their community can help ensure that residents will not be forced to leave should they run out of money. How is this promise (implied or expressed) funded?
How can I be assured that I will receive the best care possible if and when I need it?
A key reason for choosing a CCRC is gaining access to a full continuum of care services, usually all provided on-site. Opting to move to a CCRC is a substantial financial commitment, so you want to be sure that the quality of that care will be up to your standards.
This is one of the reasons I advise people to tour the CCRC’s on-site healthcare center to check it out for yourself. I understand that not everyone is comfortable doing this, but I think it is worthwhile to see with your own eyes what the facilities look like. You may be pleasantly surprised at how far many nursing centers have come over the last 10 to 20 years, compared to the image many people have of institutional-style settings from decades past.
There are other ways to verify the quality of the care provided by the CCRC. If the community is Medicare-certified, ask about their CMS rating. You also can check with the local long-term care ombudsman to see if the community has received any complaints.
How do I know my money will be safe with your community?
This is the one of the top questions I hear prospective residents ask at CCRCs, and it should be. You are making a tremendous investment when you choose a CCRC — both emotionally and financially. You should feel completely confident about a community’s response to this question before you decide to move forward with signing a contract.
Of course, no one can predict the future, but a community that is financially viable should happily provide relevant information and data illustrating that they are well-positioned financially. This data should include both qualitative information (e.g., experienced management team) and quantitative information (e.g., strong financial ratios). Ultimately, what you really want to know is if the community is operating in the black without having to use funds that should be set aside to fund long-term commitments to residents.
An informed CCRC decision
Life is full of decisions. Some are mundane, like what to wear or what to eat for lunch. Others have major implications for your health and happiness, like selecting a profession or choosing a spouse. Making the decision to move to a CCRC and then selecting the community that is right for you definitely falls into the latter category.
While making a big life decision can be scary, the best thing you can do is get fully informed about your options. By doing your research on various CCRCs, learning about the different contract options, understanding costs, and clarifying what the CCRC’s fees cover, you will be well on your way to making the most educated decision possible about your future. The five questions above are a good place to start.
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