POST 50
12/20/2016 08:21 am ET

Aging Care Is A Big Business -- That Fails The Patient

'Help' always comes with a hefty price tag when it comes to caregiving.

lisafx via Getty Images

I was thrust into the role of being a family caregiver for my husband about six months ago and if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: Aging is a big money-maker for a lot of people. No, not for family caregivers like me who don’t get paid a nickel, but for pretty much everyone else who comes in contact with an older patient. I can almost hear the ka-ching of their cash registers as they offer to “help.”

The goal of the health-care industry is to keep people alive for as long as they can. And if you ask me, there is only one reason for this keep-’em-breathing approach: You can’t make money off dead people.

Harsh? Not really. Think about it: Once someone is dead, doctors can’t run expensive medical tests to prove what they already know. They can’t hire specialists to consult about some new treatment that the patient doesn’t necessarily want. Nobody can’t charge $120,000 a year to warehouse your patient in a nursing home.

Heck, once the patient is dead, you’ll never be able to convince the family to pay $165 for a nurse to visit them for 15 minutes at home. Nor will that family pay $100 a day for a home health aide to come and change a patient’s diaper and then watch them sleep for four hours.

That transportation service that costs $75 per roundtrip to drive your patient three miles to dialysis would get nothing if he dies. The place that sells you his walker, his wheelchair, his oxygen tank ― they wouldn’t be able to earn a living if everyone was allowed to pass peacefully. The dietitians who offer meal-planning advice not covered by insurance, the kidney dialysis centers that bill private insurance $6,300 per session; the physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists ― your patient helps support all of them. 

I used to think it was the other way around, and that I should be grateful that these people existed. I am, to some extent. But that’s just part of the story. The other part is that caring for the elderly is a big industry and the advice you get ― the advice you pay for ― is often shaped by the profit motive.

I filled out one online form requesting information about area in-home caregivers and so far, I have gotten more than 30 calls and emails of people offering to “help” me. One such “placement counselor” decided she knew my husband based on our 10-minute call and that I absolutely should not even consider bringing him home after his most-recent hospitalization stay. She dismissed his doctor’s opinion that he likely would be able to manage at home, with help. She insisted ― insisted ― that I should move quickly to take advantage of a particular nursing home’s “move-in”special where I could lock in the rate for the rest of the patient’s life. “It’s an amazing offer,” she assured me. She wanted me to promise that I would “at least tour the place” ― she would arrange it ― over the weekend. I declined. She called me every day until I just bluntly asked her not to. Her final words to me: “You will regret that you missed this opportunity.” Thanks, because on top of everything else, I really needed to hear this.

Every time I write a post about my experience as a family caregiver, I get a dozen calls or emails from people offering to “help” me ― always for a fee. They all want me to promote their businesses, which, they all say they created out of their desire to “help” family caregivers just like me.

That, my friends, is a bold-faced lie. The honest reason why they created their businesses is to make money ― the same reason anyone ever starts a for-profit business. The oldest boomers turned 70 this year and with 10,000 a day turning 65, providing healthcare services to older people is about the smartest business someone can invest in. I salute these for-fee businesses for their foresight.

But there is still something about the idea that even human vegetables are worth more alive than dead that troubles me. And the fact that they are seen as a money-making opportunity is more than just troubling: It revolts me.

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