The Irish Times: Eilish O’ Regan
NURSING home residents face paying more for their care because the State is losing money under its “pay when you die” option. New figures, obtained by the Irish Independent, show how the State has so far recovered an average of just €9,000 from the estates of nursing home residents who postponed most of the cost of their care until after their death. Meanwhile, it is subsidising residents’ care under the Fair Deal scheme to help cover costs that can stretch into thousands every week. Since the scheme began, the care of all nursing home residents, including those not in the scheme, has cost the State over €2.5bn. The choice of paying after their death or in their lifetime was offered under the Fair Deal scheme, which was introduced in late 2009 to subsidise the weekly fees paid by nursing home residents.
A majority of people are choosing to pay the subsisided fees in their lifetime.But hundreds more are deciding to leave the bill to the sale and proceeds of their estate after death. The State can then recoup up to 15pc of the value of a person’s assets, usually the family home.
But Minister of State for Older People Kathleen Lynch has already said depending on the property market to fund the scheme “was always precarious to say the least”. And now the scheme is being reviewed, with a deadline for submissions today, signalling that changes are on the way.
A total of 514 nursing home residents who opted to pay after death have passed away between the start of the scheme in October 2009 and last April. They owed €5.76m in fees. Funds have been recovered from the estates of 291 of them but it has yielded just €2.51m so far. The other 223 cases are currently being processed, but further losses are expected. While it is early days and the money generated from estates will rise in future, the depressed housing market means that property left behind at death is not as valuable as it used to be.
And the generous terms of the scheme means what when a financial assessment of assets is carried out, the first €36,000 for an individual, or €72,000 for a couple, is not counted. And a person’s home will only be included in the financial assessment regarding the first three years of their time in care. Sources said the fall in house prices is having an impact on the amount the State is recovering — with the average house value now at about €160,000. The Fair Deal scheme faced a cash crisis last year when the HSE found it only had enough funds to cater for existing nursing home residents and had to suspend new applications. It is in that context that the Fair Deal scheme is now under review, and this is expected to result in new curbs being introduced which will see residents pay more for their care.