CARSON CITY – A woman tearfully pleaded for legislators Wednesday to help her family and others in Nevada who cannot afford the cost of caring for loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
"Every door I have knocked on has been slammed in my face," said Maria Mazuorski, a Northern Nevada mother of three whose husband was diagnosed with the disease at age 50. "They say we don’t qualify. We have spent our savings. We don’t have funds to hire someone to help. I wish you could see (what it’s like) getting early onset dementia."
She addressed the Legislature’s Health Care Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease. The committee’s goal is to develop a plan to handle Alzheimer’s costs that would be considered by the Legislature at its 2013 session.
State Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, told Mazuorski she had "courage" and asked the legislative staff if they could help her find financial assistance. But during the meeting, representatives of courts and health care organizations all said they are hard-pressed to keep up with the current needs of older people, let alone the addition of more people.
Unfortunately, more older people are on the way.
State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle told the panel that the population of Nevada, once a young person’s state, is rapidly aging and will require state government to spend more on care for older people, especially those with dementia, in coming years.
MEDIAN AGE ON THE RISE
Hardcastle said the median age of a Nevada resident was 33.3 in 1990 and 36.3 in 2010. The state will keep growing older because of the aging baby boomer population, he said.
This will be particularly true in rural areas, he said. The median age is 52.9 in Esmeralda County, 48.4 in Nye, but only 35.5 in Clark County.
He also said the population of Nevadans 65 and older has more than doubled in the past 20 years and predicted it will climb to 436,654 in 2020. Nevada now has about 2.7 million residents.
Hardcastle, who is generally only a numbers person, also spoke of the potential increases in the costs of taking care of older people. He noted that a person who lives to be 65 on the average has 18.8 more years to live.
"People came to Nevada for economic reasons in their 20s, 30s and 40s and became involved. They purchased homes and now they are aging. We have become fairly much an aging population that will require more services over time," Hardcastle said.
Nationally, people are aging even faster than Nevada residents, going from a median age of 32.9 in 1990 to 37.2 in 2010.
The state, hit hard by the Great Recession, is already having trouble paying its health care bills. And the immediate future doesn’t bode well for state finances.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has not decided yet whether the state will expand its Medicaid program to many more low-income Nevadans who don’t now qualify. The program provides free health care for the poor, blind, disabled and some of the elderly. The U.S. Supreme Court, in upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, said the states did not have to expand their Medicaid programs.
Also, Sandoval has gone on record that he will veto any bills that would increase taxes, other than extending $620 million in sales and business taxes set to expire next year. That money would be earmarked for public schools and colleges.
Egan Walker, a Washoe County Family Court judge, said his county cannot even find housing for all the older people who need assistance, so some are being sent to Idaho, Utah and even Las Vegas with costs covered by his county.
"This (the older population) will have an impact on Medicaid dollars and the resources that are available," he said. "Those are the cold facts, senator. We have to rise to the challenge."
The Nevada Department of Health and Human Resources does not have state-specific statistics on costs of caring for people with Alzheimer’s, a progressive, irreversible neurological disorder for which there is no known cure.
State officials do not know whether the federal health care law, which will go into effect in 2014, will reduce some Alzheimer’s care costs. But the Alzheimer’s Association estimated $200 billion will be spent nationally to care for people with the disease in 2012 and that figure will increase to $1.1 trillion in 2050. Now, an estimated 5.4 million people have the disease.
Nationally, Medicare payments average $19,820 a year for senior citizens with Alzheimer’s, compared to $7,521 for people without the disease. Medicaid recipients with Alzheimer’s receive an average $10,120, versus $527 for seniors without it.
Bill Welch, president of the Nevada Hospital Association, said people with Alzheimer’s frequently need long stays in the hospital. Hospitals cannot legally release them unless there are appropriate facilities to provide care, and often hospitals in Reno and Las Vegas send them to rural Nevada hospitals, he added.
"We have to make sure there are enough resources," he said.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.