How to Compare Senior Care Costs
If you’ve read our other posts on how to pay for assisted living (or if you’ve just started looking into paying for senior care yourself), you know that it’s a complicated process.
Assessing, preparing for and financing the costs of senior care isn’t always easy. And even when you have a firm grasp on pricing models and the costs you might expect, you still need to actually choose a community.
That’s why we compiled insights from Christopher Golen, Benchmark’s Regional Director of Operations for CCRCs, to help you compare different senior living communities — so that you can feel confident you made the right decision for the long term.
1. Compare Experiences, Not Just Price Tags
When searching for senior living, it’s easy to get caught up in the prices. Golen advises that you should be careful not to compare prices only: you should also compare experiences.
Start with customer service, i.e. how much attention, even if remotely, the dedicated staff offers to your search. When you do a virtual tour, or visit in person, the top communities on your list on a senior living tour, how does the tour guide conduct themselves before and after the tour? How are you greeted when you call on the phone?
When on a virtual or physical visit to the community, take note of how the property looks and how staff and residents present themselves. It’s ok to ask for a better view or a 360 perspective during a virtual tour. “The little things mean a lot. That’s what can set a community apart from the rest,” says Golen.
Comparing price should come after comparing value. After all, a higher-priced community may have a higher value to you than one that costs a little less. “Some cars are priced higher than others, but you know you’re going to get a good car,” Golen explains. “You know it’s not going to break down, and you know it’s going to go over 100,000 miles.”
2. What’s Included in the Price?
Make sure you fully understand what’s included in the cost of senior living communities so that you can compare apples to apples in your senior living search.
Ask these questions:
- What pricing model do they use to set the cost of senior living?
- If the community uses all-inclusive pricing, is there a limit to that all-inclusiveness, such as if you need extensive care on a daily basis?
- Are there exceptions to it?
- What’s involved with each level of care?
- How are care needs and levels of care determined? Is there an assessment process?
- Who does the assessment? How often do assessments occur?
- What happens if you or your parent needs more care?
- Will I ever have to pay more for more care and how much will it cost?
- To what level does that care go?
- What is the highest level of care available?
- What happens if my care needs exceed what can be provided?
The basic point is, don’t take prices at sticker value. Dig deeper.
For example: If the top care level at one assisted living provider costs $100 a day, and another costs $80 a day, what are the two providers doing differently? Care can be vastly different between assisted living providers. If the $80-a-day community provides a lower level of care, it may actually end up being more expensive as you add on more services.
3. Evaluate Short- & Long-Term Senior Care Solutions
When comparing costs, it’s important to think about future possibilities. Have an honest conversation with the senior living provider. Be realistic about your financial situation. It may have to be a bit of a balancing act.
Sometimes the right solution is a short-term solution, or a hybrid solution. Perhaps you can only afford a certain community for a few years. If you plan for that, the transition can be much more palatable. Just be sure to work with the community to get a good alternative lined up months before you move out to avoid any crisis management.
Golen notes: “Sometimes assisted living is kind of a stopgap — it may not be the forever answer, because it just can’t be. Sometimes you must decide what is the best possible quality of life for your loved one right now, and for their foreseeable financial future.”
Another alternative would be to consider a few years of home care first, then look at moving to a senior living community. Consider creative solutions that will extend your assets and give you flexibility.