Looking at Continuing Care Retirement Communities? Look Closely.

December 3, 2010

There are a lot of benefits to Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC’s), also called “Buy-In’s.” These are the places where you put down a substantial sum (maybe $250,000 or more) as an entrance fee, and you plan to stay there for life – they have independent apartments, various levels of assisted living, and skilled nursing (nursing home), all on campus. There is definitely something appealing about the promise of being cared for for life.

But will they really care for you for life? There are some big questions right now about the nursing home units at CCRC’s. For example, when describing the nursing home to you, a potential customer, the sales staff will explain that if you run out of money, they will help you apply for Medicaid. Well, as it turns out, sometimes the CCRC makes you spend down even further than the Medicaid rules do.

For example, for a married couple, if one spouse needs nursing home but the other is still in the community (ex. in her own apartment or in the assisted living), MassHealth rules permit the community spouse to keep about $110,000 to live on. But guess what – before letting the husband move into a MassHealth nursing home bed, the CCRC might make the wife spend her own money down even further than the $110,000, maybe allowing her to keep only $50,000 for herself. And what did they have her spend it on? The husband’s private pay bed in the CCRC nursing home. And how much longer can she last in the community with only $50,000 to her name?

The sales team might also tell you that if a couple really runs out of money, there is a benevolent fund that will help you pay your monthly fees. I’d be a lot more comfortable moving into a CCRC if I saw the balance sheet for that benevolent fund – is there really enough in it for all the residents who might need help? And do they ever really expend from the benevolent fund?

Before committing to a CCRC, do your research. Dig around to make sure that what the sales staff is telling you is true. Two sources of hands-on experience with the nursing home units are going to be (1) local families who have been through the nursing home, and (2) local elder law attorneys who have helped clients navigate the CCRC nursing home experience.